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London Grenfell Tower fire: Theresa May orders full public inquiry - death toll rises to 17 amid grim search for victims

It was built in 1974 and recently refurbished, with work completed in May last year.

Prime Minister Theresa May has ordered a full public inquiry into the Grenfell Tower disaster which has claimed the lives of at least 17 people.

The death toll from the devastating tower block fire in west London is expected to rise with the London Fire Brigade saying it does not expect to find anymore survivors.

Investigators had been trawling through the wreckage in the search for other victims. The Metropolitan Police said there are 37 people still receiving care in hospital with seventeen in a critical condition.

Mrs May visited the scene on Thursday and said the inquiry was needed to ensure "this terrible tragedy is properly investigated".

Speaking at 10 Downing Street shortly after she returned from the site she said: "We need to know what happened, we need to know an explanation.

"We owe that to the families, to the people who have lost loved ones and the homes in which they lived.

"That is why I am ordering a full public inquiry so that we can get to the answers, we can find out exactly what happened."

On Thursday morning, London Fire Commissioner Dany Cotton said she does not expect any other survivors to be found inside Grenfell Tower. She also said the edges of the building are no longer safe for firefighters.

The search operation is likely to take weeks.

Commander Stuart Cundy, of the Metropolitan Police, said: "Sadly I can confirm that the number of people who have died is now 17.

"We do believe that that number will sadly increase."

Detective Chief Inspector Matt Bonner has been appointed to lead the investigation, he added.

London Fire Commissioner Dany Cotton said: "This will be a detailed fingertip search.

"Obviously this will be a very slow and painstaking process."

The fire service chief said nine of her officers had been injured during the incident.

The Queen has said her "thoughts and prayers" are with the injured and families who lost loved ones in the tragedy.

Read more: People reported missing after Grenfell Tower fire

More than £1 million has been raised to help those affected as fire tore through the 24-storey building while volunteers and charities helped feed and shelter people who could not return to their homes overnight.

A wall of condolence was put up near the scene with photographs showing dozens of messages left for loved ones.

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(PA Graphics)

Residents’ groups have claimed they voiced concerns about the safety of the building, which had been recently refurbished, while those who escaped complained their fire alarms had not been set off by the blaze.

One focus for the investigation will be the building’s cladding, which TV architect George Clarke said may have accelerated the blaze.

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People light candles as people gather for prayers outside the Notting Hill Methodist Church (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

Mr Clarke, who lives locally and appears on Channel 4’s Amazing Spaces, told BBC’s Newsnight: ” I saw those cladding panels, the cladding on the outside and the insulation was just peeling off, like you’d peel a banana.

“It was fully on fire. I could see the flames behind – there’s a new cladding system put on the outsides that looks like a new skin, there’s an air gap an insulation behind that, to me that looks like a fantastic chimney for the fire to rage around.”

Grenfell Tower, built in 1974, was recently refurbished at a cost of £8.6 million, with work completed in May last year.

Kensington and Chelsea Council admitted it had received complaints over the works, after a residents’ action group said its warnings about safety had fallen on “deaf ears”.

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The 24-storey Grenfell Tower (Henry Vaughan/PA)

A blog post from Grenfell Action Group in November said “only a catastrophic event” would expose the concerns residents had.

The group said there was one entry and exit to the tower during improvement works and it had issues with evacuation procedures.

Concerns had also been raised about exposed gas pipes weeks before the devastating blaze.

Rydon, the firm that carried out the refurbishment work, said the project “met all required building regulations”, in its latest statement following the fire.

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Emergency services close to the scene (Victoria Jones/PA)

and health and safety standards”, which was included in an earlier release, had disappeared.

When questioned about residents’ worries about fire safety at the block, the council’s deputy leader Rock Feilding-Mellen told the BBC: “My understanding is that their concerns were looked at and officers and the TMO (tenant management organisation) made inquiries and felt we had done what was necessary.”

Meanwhile, work is continuing to tackle “pockets of fire” in the block, with several residents reporting one man had said it started in his faulty fridge.

Many people are still unaccounted for with firefighters saying the operation was now in the “recovery phase”.

Commander Stuart Cundy of the Metropolitan Police said: “This is going to be a long and complex recovery operation and I do anticipate that the number of fatalities will sadly increase beyond those 12.”

Witnesses described hearing screams for help from people trapped on the upper floors of the block as flames engulfed the building, which contains 120 flats thought to be home to between 400 and 600 people.

Children and a baby were seen being thrown out of the windows to be caught by emergency workers and members of the public below.

London Fire Brigade said it had rescued 65 people as flames engulfed the block, and had managed to reach all 24 floors, though a full search of the building has not been completed.

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