Pickles blasted after calling Grenfell victims 'nameless' and not knowing how many died

7 April 2022, 18:09 | Updated: 7 April 2022, 18:13

Eric Pickles has been accused of disrespecting the memory of the victims of the Grenfell Tower fire
Eric Pickles has been accused of disrespecting the memory of the victims of the Grenfell Tower fire. Picture: Alamy

By Asher McShane

Former cabinet minister Eric Pickles has sparked a furious backlash from the families of Grenfell victims after he got the number of people who died in the fire wrong and described them as 'nameless'.

Lord Pickles appeared today before the inquiry into the west London tower block blaze, which killed 72 people on June 14 2017.

He told the inquiry that 96 people died in the fire, and described the victims, all of whom have been identified, as "nameless".

Lord Pickles served as secretary of state at the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) between May 12 2010 and May 11 2015. He was also chairman of the Conservative Party from 2009 to 2010.

Lord Pickles made the mistake at the end of his evidence while answering if there was anything he would have done differently.

He told the inquiry: "My answer, one I obviously prepared because I had watched you doing this and I realised I was going to be asked - is entirely different from the one I am going to give."

He referred to the coroner's recommendations following the 2006 Lakanal House fire in Camberwell which killed six people and injured 20 more.

The first report from the Grenfell Inquiry found that lessons from the Lakanal House fire had not been learned by the time of the Grenfell disaster eight years later.

Lord Pickles said: "What I was going to say is maybe I should have put in the letter the simple sentence 'and I accept the coroner's recommendations' - would that have changed things?", he said.

"And your diligence, and your choice of examples, has made me come to the view, I don't think it would have made any difference whatsoever I think.

"There was a kind of mindset that existed in parts of the department that just simply ignored what was happening, made a view about what we were and came to it."

He said that the inquiry should "never lose sight" that "this isn't about deregulation". Instead, he said it was about the "nameless" victims of the Grenfell Tower fire.

"It comes down to Michelle (Udoaka who died in the Lakanal blaze) and to the nameless 96 people who were killed in the Grenfell fire.

"It's them who we should think about when we're arguing the toss.

"Ultimately, as I've said earlier, the dead deserve the dignity of being remembered by name and the dead deserve the dignity of a solution.

"And I am sure you will come to that."

His comments sparked fury from the group representing victims' families, who called for him to be removed from Government and the Lords.

Grenfell United said: "Eric Pickles’ disrespect at the Inquiry has left us speechless. How dare he refer to our loved ones we lost that night as ‘the 96 nameless’. 72 people died in Grenfell and none of them were nameless. 

“His utter disregard for what happened and to those no longer with us is horrifying, given that he had the ability as Minister of Housing to reform building safety. 

“It was Eric Pickles’ responsibility to implement the Lakanal House Fire recommendations issued to Government, which specifically referenced dangerous cladding and the urgent need to review building regulations. 

“Instead, he pushed the recommendations back to 2017 and by the time Grenfell Tower was alight, the guidance had not changed. 

“Had he done his job, our experience on the 14th June might have been very different. Yet today, he told the Inquiry that he wouldn’t have done anything differently."

Seventy-two victims of the Grenfell Tower fire have been named and accounted for.

Earlier on Thursday, the second and final day of his evidence, Lord Pickles also appeared to become frustrated with how much of his time the inquiry was taking up.

He told lead counsel to the inquiry Richard Millett QC: "By all means sir, feel free to ask me as many questions as you like, but could I respectfully remind you that you did promise that we would be away this morning and I have changed my schedules to fit this in.

"I do have an extremely busy day. But this is more important than anything, but I would urge you to use your time wisely."

At the end of his evidence in the afternoon Lord Pickles thanked the inquiry for the "professional and courteous" way he was treated.

Grenfell inquiry chairman Sir Martin Moore-Bick thanked him for his time, adding: "I am sorry that it interfered with your arrangements for today, but there were things that we needed to ask you."