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Teenager’s tears reduce council member to silence during tense public meeting

The 17-year-old said the trauma of the Grenfell Tower fire had sent her backwards in her long-term struggle with depression.

The tears of a teenager who lived in a block neighbouring Grenfell Tower reduced a senior member of the local council to silence during a tense public meeting.

The 17-year-old, who gave her name as Rhianna, said the trauma of the fire had sent her backwards in her long-term struggle with depression.

She said she had been forced to seek counselling proactively and recalled how her eight-year-old nephew was suffering after finding out his teacher had been one of those who perished in the blaze.

The Testerton Walk resident said her nephew had only recently been offered counselling and it would be three weeks before anyone could see him, at a public meeting at Notting Hill Methodist Church on Tuesday evening – a stone’s throw from the charred shell of the tower.

Speaking tearfully to a panel of representatives, she said: “From this day onward, what are you as a council going to do to ensure that the survivors of Grenfell, the people who had to sit on Latimer Road and watch people falling and jump and cry and lose their family, what are you going to do to support and ensure that we can have trust in you and that we can trust our community and we can not argue at each other, not shout over each other, not come to meetings and everyone’s shouting at each other – what are you going to do?

Newly-appointed interim head of paid services at Kensington and Chelsea council Barry Quirk, one of the panel representatives, appeared to struggle with emotion as he replied: “It’s absolutely clear to me that you have been let down.

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Newly-appointed interim head of paid services at Kensington and Chelsea council Barry Quirk (centre) struggled with emotion after hearing the teenager speak (Jonathan Brady/PA)

“And you’ve been let down by statutory public authorities.”

He then paused, microphone in hand, while the 17-year-old broke down with her head in her hands and community members rushed to comfort her.

Continuing, he said: “I will do everything I feasibly can to change the management of this organisation and to change the way in which health and other agencies respond to you directly, immediately, 24/7, not just when it’s convenient for them, when you need it.”

The teenager, currently living in a hotel, was applauded by audience members after her passionate speech, and was later congratulated by one who said she was proud of her.

The meeting, intended to provide an update and give locals an opportunity to question key figures, proceeded smoothly for the first half hour before descending into shouting as residents’ frustration boiled over.

Several outbursts centred around the delay for residents displaced by the fire to be rehoused, as one audience member said some survivors were booked into hotels until September 1.

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The meeting took place Notting Hill Methodist Church on Tuesday evening (Jonathan Brady/PA)

Less than a fifth of offers for temporary accommodation made to survivors have been accepted.

Mr Quirk, the Metropolitan Police detective responsible for evidence recovery, Simon Fox, site manager and superintendent David Moorhead, and a public health representative, were those who faced the packed room.

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