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Grenfell Tower fire: Police chief discusses 'death toll cover-up' concerns

Commander Stuart Cundy also spoke about gruesome details of the recovery operation in a BBC Radio 4 interview

The police officer who oversaw the recovery operation at Grenfell Tower has spoken of the challenges his officers face and the difficulties establishing the death toll.

Commander Stuart Cundy repeated the final figure of those that died in the inferno would not be known until the conclusion of the police operation.

He also reiterated that it may prove impossible to identify all those who perished in the building on June 14, and addressed concerns that the true death toll was well above the official “around 80” mark .

Comm Cundy was speaking on the Radio 4 show More or Less: Behind the Stats to host to Tim Harford.

Neighbours living close to the tower had reported seeing 150 body bags at the scene the day after the fire, sparking fears of a cover-up.

Singer Lily Allen said the death count was closer to 150, while Tottenham MP David Lammy, whose friend Khadija Saye was among the victims , said the official toll was “far far too low”.

It was one of several points addressed by Comm Cundy during the interview, who went into detail about the recovery process.

He said: “The complexity of the recovery operation is such that within just over two weeks we had recovered what we would describe as the visually identifiable human remains.

"And it is distressing for the families and residents and certainly the listeners as well that the intensity of the fire and the length of time that Grenfell Tower was on fire is that we are not recovering what many people think of as human bodies.

Metropolitan Police Commander Stuart Cundy speaking to the media near Grenfell Tower a few days after the disaster(Image: PA)

“We are recovering human remains, primarily bones, fragments of bone which is why we are very reliant and work very closely with experts like forensic archaeologists so we can identify all of those remains within the tower and identify all those that have died.

“We have prepared families that we may ultimately not be able to identify everybody who died within fire.”

He spoke about the “pain-staking” recovery operation, which is seeing a finger-tip search through 15 tones of material on each floor, and repeated his belief that the death toll was around 80 people, but he said this could not be stated accurately until the police operation had concluded.

Fifty-six victims have been formally identified by the coroner Dr Fiona Wilcox while baby Logan Gomes born prematurely and stillborn, is also listed as a victim .

That leaves around 24 people reported missing who police assume to be dead, but Comm Cundy added it was possible there were people who died who were not reported missing because people did not know they were inside the building.

Addressing the sight of the body bags, he said: “The phrase body bag doesn’t really mean what many listeners will think it means, which is the recovery of a person. Whatever remains we found wherever we find them we all recover them with dignity and in an appropriate manner.

“So the number of body bags that came out of the tower doesn’t equate to the people that have died .

“The nature of the fire, the intensity of it, means that it is very challenging to easily establish individuals and therefore when we recover human remains it’s really important they’re recovered in a fully recorded fashion.

“When they are taken to the mortuary our experts there are able to identify how many people that these remains equate to.”

And he said emergency services had worked to the best of their abilities in an unprecedented situation.

“Over 24 hours later the fire at Grenfell Tower was still alight” he said. “So the ability to go into all of those flats and as quickly as we can identify how many people have died is just simply not achievable within that time period.

“We went into Grenfell Tower as quickly as we could when it was safe to do so.

“I was in there myself on the Saturday and went all the way up to the 23rd floor and... it’s hard to put into words the devastation that that fire caused and the incredibly challenging situation that the emergency services found themselves in to easily identify all those who died.”

Listen to the full interview here .

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