Grenfell Tower tragedy: expert in South Yorkshire says identifying victims could take up to a year

The blaze at Grenfell Tower
The blaze at Grenfell Tower
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The 'horrendous' operation to identify victims of the Grenfell Tower inferno could take up to a year, an expert in the field from South Yorkshire has warned.

The official death toll from the horrific fire in west London stands at 79, but police say that figure is expected to change, and Labour MP Diane Abbott has claimed 'hundreds' of people may have lost their lives.

Richard Venables

Richard Venables

Richard Venables, a former South Yorkshire police officer, became a leading authority in the identification of victims at disaster scenes and was called on to help at tragedies from the 7/7 London bombings to the Boxing Day tsunami of 2004.

He is now retired and his career memoirs, entitled A Life in Death, were last month named People's Book Prize non-fiction book of the year - an award he dedicated to victims of the Manchester Arena bombing.

The 59-year-old grandfather, who lives near Rawmarsh in Rotherham, said he watched the tragedy unfold at Grenfell Tower with horror and found it hard to overestimate the challenge teams would face recovering and identifying the victims.

"It's a horrendous operation, clearly, and very challenging even for the most experienced DVI (disaster victim identification) officers," he said.

"I would estimate it would be a minimum of three months and up to 12 months before all the bodies are identified, if indeed they all can be."

The Metropolitan Police has come under criticism from some people over the time it has taken to update the death toll, with singer Lily Allen among those accusing them of trying to cover up the extent of the tragedy.

But Mr Venables defended the force, saying it would have been wrong and possibly more distressing for families of those living in the flats had police speculated on the number of fatalities rather than releasing confirmed figures.

He said although it may sound simple to calculate the number of deaths, some occupants may have had visitors, others may have gone on holiday without telling friends or families, and some flats may have been illegally sub-let.

He also said the extent of the fire damage meant some victims may never be formally identified.

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