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The Independent UK
The Independent UK
Jon Stone

Eric Pickles apologises for getting Grenfell death toll wrong at inquiry

PA Archive

An ex-Tory cabinet minister has apologised after getting the death toll for the Grenfell Tower fire wrong while giving evidence to a public inquiry.

Eric Pickles was communities secretary in the run-up to the fire and last week faced questioning over whether he had cut regulations in the construction industry.

After a heated evidence session Lord Pickles, now a Conservative peer, was criticised by campaigners as "heartless" for suggesting the inquiry might be wasting his time.

He caused further anger at the end of his appearance when he got the death toll wrong, referring to the "the nameless 96 people who were killed". 72 people died at Grenfell and none were "nameless".

In an email to the inquiry Lord Pickles said he "mis-spoke" and had confused the death toll of the 2017 tower block fire with the 1989 Hillsborough football stadium disaster – where 96 people were killed.

"In my final remarks I misspoke and referenced the 96 people that died in and immediately after Hillsborough," he said.

"I apologise to the family and friends of the 72 people who died at Grenfell for this unintended mistake, which was unscripted.

"The dead are remembered not as a statistic but with dignity by their families, survivors and all of us."

A 97th name was officially added to the death toll of the Hillsborough disaster last year, in light of the coroners ruling.

Lord Pickles caused outrage when he told the inquiry’s chief counsel 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.”

After a break Lord Pickles apologised for being "discourteous" with regards to the use of his time. He said he had decided to cancel his meetings because "this is more important than anything I'm doing".

On the day Emma Dent Coad, a local councillor who was previously the Labour MP for Kensington at the time of the fire and who had been attending hearings, told The Independent “Pickles’ attitude was frankly jaw-dropping".

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