Britain mourns victims of Grenfell fire tragedy

Pauline FROISSART, Joe JACKSON
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London's Grenfell Tower, where 71 people were killed in a fire a year ago, was illuminated in green

Survivors of London's Grenfell Tower fire disaster joined relatives of the dead on Thursday in poignant tributes to the 71 killed in the residential block inferno one year ago.

In a church service near the charred shell of the tower, grieving families, many in tears, clutched white roses and images of their loved ones lost in Britain's deadliest domestic fire since World War II.

The names of the dead were read out and candles lit in their memory. Many mourners were dressed in green, the adopted colour of the tragedy.

As Britain held a national minute's silence at midday (1100 GMT), members of parliament stood in the House of Commons with their heads bowed.

Queen Elizabeth II, wearing a green outfit, stood alongside her grandson Prince Harry's wife Meghan on a visit to Cheshire, northwest England.

Graham Tomlin, the Bishop of Kensington who was among the service leaders at St. Helen's Church in North Kensington, west London, said the memorial was a chance for people to mourn together.

"People are still grieving, are still recovering. A lot of people are dealing with their memories. They seek justice, they seek some answers," he told AFP.

"But there is positivity as well, as this community is extremely resilient.

"It will take time for people to heal. We will never forget the people who died."

Jane Lanyero, a member of the African Women's Care group, told AFP: "It brings all the memories back... There is hope but also frustration. So little has been done for the victims."

The Kensington and Chelsea local authority said that of the 203 families needing rehousing, 83 were in permanent homes, 52 in temporary housing and 68 in emergency accommodation, mainly hotels.

- Tearful procession -

Overnight, dozens of tearful survivors of joined relatives on an emotional walk through the area.

The procession ended in the shadow of the burnt-out block just before 12:54am, the time the London Fire Brigade received the first emergency call.

One by one, relatives announced the names of the deceased, before pinning their pictures at the "wall of truth" -- a section of the fencing around the tower featuring messages and candles.

The crowd then marked an eerie silence for 72 seconds -- in memory of each of the people who perished, along with a stillborn baby.

"I saw everything from the start of that night and I couldn't sleep for three weeks," recalled Farhiya Abdi, 42, a mother-of-two who was among the first to arrive at Grenfell from her nearby home as the fire spread.

"When I closed my eyes I would hear the screaming for help, see the children's faces at the window again. I saw people jump to their death," she said at an earlier remembrance event on a nearby street.

Organisers unveiled banners and t-shirts emblazoned with slogans demanding justice.

Nearly everybody wore a green scarf, while the tower was illuminated in green, as was Prime Minister Theresa May's Downing Street office.

-'Time hasn't done anything' -

"Today, one year on from the Grenfell tragedy, our thoughts are with the survivors and the bereaved," May said.

She paid tribute to those who lost their lives and to the "courage and strength" of the survivors and their loved ones, adding: "The dignity they have shown is humbling."

In an interview with Grenfell Speaks, a social media news channel, May admitted that the immediate official response to the fire "wasn't good enough".

"I don't know why it took so long," she said.

The local community is still traumatised by the tragedy.

"I thought time would've healed us but time hasn't done anything," said Chris Imafidon, 50, who knew six different families bereaved by the blaze through an education charity he works for.

Among the attendees were former tower residents Marcio and Andreia Gomes, whose son was stillborn hours after the fire, and local firefighters who responded that night.

A silent walk was to be held -- similar to the ones that take place on the 14th of every month -- while banners in memory of the victims have been unfurled over the top four floors of the tower.

The fire started through a faulty fridge in the kitchen of a fourth-floor flat in the 24-storey tower.

Residents blame the fire's spread on cladding installed during a recent refurbishment, while the fire service has come under the spotlight over its advice for residents to stay put.

Relatives of those who died recently provided heart-rending testimony about their loved ones' final moments at the beginning of a public inquiry into the fire, reminding Britons of the shocking scale of the tragedy.