Grenfell fire death toll highly unlikely to change, says coroner
Inquests were opened and adjourned into the deaths of mother and daughter Victoria King and Alexandra Atala.
The Grenfell Tower death toll is “highly unlikely” to change from 71, a coroner has said as she opened inquests for the final two victims of the blaze.
Westminster Coroner Fiona Wilcox marked the milestone by poignantly reading the names of 70 of those killed in the June 14 fire and observing two minutes of silence.
The 71st victim, baby Logan Gomes, was stillborn and not formally named by Dr Wilcox.
The coroner praised the work of authorities to “restore names to the dead and return them to their families” in the months since the disaster.
Inquests were opened and adjourned into the deaths of mother and daughter Victoria King, 71, and Alexandra Atala, 40, who were found at each other’s side on the block’s 20th floor.
Preliminary causes of death for the pair were consistent with the effects of fire, Westminster Coroner’s Court heard.
Ms Atala was identified through anthropology and secondary records, coroner’s officer Eric Sword told the hearing. It is understood this would have involved the remains being painstakingly reconstructed by experts over the course of many weeks.
Her mother was identified through DNA, it was heard.
Dr Wilcox said: “Today we have reach an important milestone in the management of the Grenfell Tower fire disaster with the opening, adjournment and suspension of the final two inquests.
“The final death toll now stands at 71, including a stillborn baby.
“70 people have come through the disaster victim identification and coronial process. All of those on the missing list have been found and identified – it is highly unlikely that this figure will now change.”
The coroner had warned on several occasions during the 19 hearings, stretching back to June 21, that it might not be possible to identify all of the dead.
It was feared the fire had been so ferocious that little would be left of some victims.
Police revised the death toll as the months passed, finally scaling it back to 71 after it was determined fraudulent claims had inflated the total.
Dr Wilcox continued: “Every bereaved family has had the remains of their loved ones released back to them and most funerals have taken place.
“We find ourselves in a very different position now to that feared in the early days following the fire when it was speculated that the death toll would be higher and that some people may never be found.
“This position is due to the unrelenting work of dedicated professionals from DVI recovery teams, mortuary staff, investigative police officers, coroner’s officers and experts such as odontologists, pathologists and anthropologists – and all those who worked behind the scenes to support them.
“Together we have worked as a team to restore names to the dead and return them to their families.”
Silence then fell over the courtroom as those present, including the victims’ family, stood to remember the dead, a stillness only interrupted by the distant chatter of broadcast helicopters overhead.
Inquests will now be suspended until the police investigation and public inquiry into the fire have concluded.
If both processes cover the main questions an inquest seeks to answer – including how, when and why a person died – Dr Wilcox will close her investigation.