The number of people dead or missing presumed dead following the Grenfell Tower tragedy has risen to 79, police have said, as a minute’s silence was held for victims of the fire.
Firefighters halted work to join residents at the North Kensington site at 11 am on Monday during emotional scenes to remember those killed. Four more people were formally identified, taking the total to five in the early stages of a search and recovery operation expected to take weeks.
Those named formally on Monday were Anthony Disson, 65, Abufars Ibrahim, 39, Ya-Haddy Sisi Saye, also known as Khadija Saye, 24, an artist who had previously been identified by friends, and a 52-year-old woman whose family did not wish for her name to be released.
Mohammed Alhajali, 23, a Syrian refugee studying engineering at the University of West London, was named over the weekend, the first to be formally identified.
Commander Stuart Cundy, of the Metropolitan Police, said: “Over the last 48 hours a huge amount of effort has been undertaken by our investigators to understand as completely as we possibly can just how many people are missing who were in Grenfell Tower that night. If they are missing I do presume, sadly, that they are also dead.
“It is a hugely complex situation. Sadly today, as of 8 am the number of people has increased. I believe there are 79 people who are either dead or missing and, sadly, I have to presume are dead.” That figure could change, but not as significantly as it has in recent days.
Cundy said it was “a truly awful reality that there may be some people who we may not be able to identify” because of the intensity of the fire.
His voice breaking, he said it was “incredibly emotional” for those from the police, London fire brigade and London ambulance service who are working in the burnt-out skeleton of the 24-storey block, which was built in the 1970s and had housed between 400 and 600 people in 120 flats.
Cundy said: “On Saturday I went in myself and went to the top floor and it is incredibly hard to describe the devastation in some parts of that building.
“I have investigated major crime for most of my service and I have seen some terrible things, but I don’t think anything prepared me for what I was going to see when I was in there.”
In a statement, the family of Anthony Disson said: “Our family is devastated at receiving the news that Tony sadly did not survive the fire at Grenfell Tower. Tony leaves behind a large family, his wife, sons and grandchildren, including one grandchild he will never get to meet.
“We miss him terribly and are pulling together as a family and trying to stay strong under these tragic circumstances. We ask at this time that our family are left to grieve in private.”
The block is now a crime scene as a criminal investigation is under way involving 250 investigators. Specialist police teams, supported by London’s fire brigade and ambulance service, are involved in the “painstaking task to locate and recover all those within Grenfell Tower”, Cundy said.
Specialist officers were supporting families. “The terrible reality of the fire on that night means that some of those who we are supporting have lost a number of their family members,” he said.
Among those still waiting for news are two brothers, Nabil and Hissam Choukair, whose mother, brother-in-law, sister and her three young children – Fatima, Mierna and Zainab – are all missing. The family, originally from Lebanon, lived on the 22nd floor. Nabil Choukair said he believed that the picture published in many newspapers last week of a family silhouetted in flames holding up a towel were his relatives. “We want answers,” he said at the weekend. “We want justice. We want the truth. We are all one in this; we are all family together.”
Five people who had been reported as missing after the disaster have since been found safe and well.
The scale of the criminal investigation was “truly, truly significant”. Cundy said: “We are looking at all criminal offences that may have been committed.”
The investigation would be “exhaustive”, looking not just at how the fire started and spread but also “why this happened”. It would be “far-reaching in a number of areas”, from how the building was managed and maintained, the fire safety measures, its construction and the recent refurbishment.
The identification process is likely to be lengthy. Some residents were from other countries and it will take time for police to receive information such as dental records.
“It is so important to me that the families have every confidence in our identification procedure and processes so they know it is their loved ones being returned to them and that is why it is so exhaustive, and it can be very time-consuming. But my absolute commitment to all the families and loved ones of those who died is that we will do this as quickly as possible,” Cundy said.
The number of victims may change as there may have been people in the block that night whom family and friends did not know were there. Equally, there may be people the police believe to be missing but who are safe. Police have appealed for any such people to confirm they are safe.
They have also appealed to the public to make available any photographs or footage of the fire and its immediate aftermath that may aid the investigation.
The soaring summer heat is contributing to the difficulties faced by firefighters who are using specially trained dogs to locate bodies.
NHS England said 17 patients were still being treated in four London hospitals for burns, smoke inhalation and injuries sustained in the fire. Of those, nine are in critical care.
Dany Cotton, the London fire commissioner, said she understood the “absolute frustration and misery” of people concerned about loved ones who had not yet been identified but that it was critical to go through the process properly.
Theresa May was due to chair a meeting of the Grenfell Tower task force on Monday afternoon to drive forward the official response to the tragedy. Several London boroughs had come together to coordinate assistance to those affected by the disaster.
The government announced on Sunday that those left homeless would be given at least £5,500 from an emergency fund. Residents will be given £500 in cash followed by a bank payment for the rest from Monday and the money will come from the £5m fund announced by May on Friday.