Theft at burnt London tower adds to police's grueling work

LONDON, Sept 19 (Reuters) - Already facing the grim task of sifting through debris to find human remains at Grenfell Tower, the London social housing block where a fire killed about 80 people, police are now also having to investigate suspected thefts from survivors' apartments.

Home to a poor, multi-ethnic community within one of London's richest boroughs, Grenfell Tower was gutted by the blaze which rapidly engulfed the whole building in the middle of the night on June 14.

The tragedy has prompted a national debate about social inequalities, neglect of deprived communities and whether fire safety regulations were inadequate or were being ignored.

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Aftermath of Grenfell apartment tower fire in London
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Aftermath of Grenfell apartment tower fire in London
The burnt out remains of the Grenfell apartment tower is seen in North Kensington, London, Britain September 20, 2017. REUTERS/Toby Melville
An official works in the burnt out remains of the Grenfell apartment tower in North Kensington, London, Britain September 20, 2017. REUTERS/Toby Melville
An official works in the burnt out remains of the Grenfell apartment tower in North Kensington, London, Britain September 20, 2017. REUTERS/Toby Melville
The burnt out remains of the Grenfell apartment tower is seen in North Kensington, London, Britain September 20, 2017. REUTERS/Toby Melville
An official works in the burnt out remains of the Grenfell apartment tower in North Kensington, London, Britain September 20, 2017. REUTERS/Toby Melville TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
The burnt out remains of the Grenfell apartment tower is seen in North Kensington, London, Britain September 20, 2017. REUTERS/Toby Melville
The burnt out remains of the Grenfell apartment tower is seen in North Kensington, London, Britain September 20, 2017. REUTERS/Toby Melville
An official works in the burnt out remains of the Grenfell apartment tower in North Kensington, London, Britain September 20, 2017. REUTERS/Toby Melville
The burnt out remains of the Grenfell apartment tower are seen from neighbouring tower block, Whitstable House in North Kensington, London, Britain, September 14, 2017. REUTERS/Mary Turner
An official works in the burnt out remains of the Grenfell apartment tower in North Kensington, London, Britain September 20, 2017. REUTERS/Toby Melville
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Police are conducting a criminal investigation into the fire that could lead to manslaughter charges, although any prosecutions could be months away due to the scale and complexity of the probe, police chiefs said on Tuesday.

"The scale of it is something that I personally have never encountered in policing," said Commander Stuart Cundy, who has overall control of the Grenfell operations.

Efforts to recover all human remains from the tower are still going on, with officers conducting fingertip searches in devastated apartments and sifting through tonnes of debris with sieves to find fragments of teeth, bones or tissue.

"It is a really harrowing scene," said Detective Superintendent Fiona McCormack, who is leading search and recovery operations.

Sixty victims have been formally identified, and Cundy said the final death toll would likely be a little below 80.

The building is unstable and each room has to be individually secured with steel bars to make it safe for investigators. As there are no functioning lifts, workers have to carry equipment and materials all the way up the tower.

THEFT AND FRAUD

The disaster has prompted an outpouring of emotion, with donations of money and clothes pouring in from around Britain, but there have also been a small number of incidents of people trying to profit from the tragedy.

McCormack said police were investigating one confirmed theft of "a considerable amount" of money from one of the less damaged apartments at the bottom of the tower, and three other suspected thefts of residents' possessions were also being probed.

These came to light when former residents were let into their flats to pick up treasured items and to say goodbye to their homes.

28 PHOTOS
Grenfell apartment tower fire in London
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Grenfell apartment tower fire in London
Flames and smoke billow as firefighters deal with a serious fire in the Grenfell Tower apartment block at Latimer Road in West London, Britain June 14, 2017. REUTERS/Toby Melville TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
TOPSHOT - Fire engulfs Grenfell Tower, a residential tower block on June 14, 2017 in west London. The massive fire ripped through the 27-storey apartment block in west London in the early hours of Wednesday, trapping residents inside as 200 firefighters battled the blaze. Police and fire services attempted to evacuate the concrete block and said 'a number of people are being treated for a range of injuries', including at least two for smoke inhalation. / AFP PHOTO / Daniel LEAL-OLIVAS (Photo credit should read DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP/Getty Images)
Flames and smoke engulf Grenfell Tower, a residential block on June 14, 2017 in west London. The massive fire ripped through the 27-storey apartment block in west London in the early hours of Wednesday, trapping residents inside as 200 firefighters battled the blaze. Police and fire services attempted to evacuate the concrete block and said 'a number of people are being treated for a range of injuries', including at least two for smoke inhalation. / AFP PHOTO / Daniel LEAL-OLIVAS (Photo credit should read DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP/Getty Images)
Members of the emergency services are parked by Grenfell Tower, a residential block which was engulfed by a huge fire on June 14, 2017 in west London. The massive fire ripped through the 27-storey apartment block in west London in the early hours of Wednesday, trapping residents inside as 200 firefighters battled the blaze. Police and fire services attempted to evacuate the concrete block and said 'a number of people are being treated for a range of injuries', including at least two for smoke inhalation. / AFP PHOTO / Daniel LEAL-OLIVAS (Photo credit should read DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP/Getty Images)
Flames and smoke billow as firefighters deal with a serious fire in a tower block at Latimer Road in West London, Britain June 14, 2017. REUTERS/Toby Melville
Local residents watch smoke billow from Grenfell Tower, a residential block on June 14, 2017 in west London. The massive fire ripped through the 27-storey apartment block in west London in the early hours of Wednesday, trapping residents inside as 200 firefighters battled the blaze. Police and fire services attempted to evacuate the concrete block and said 'a number of people are being treated for a range of injuries', including at least two for smoke inhalation. / AFP PHOTO / Daniel LEAL-OLIVAS (Photo credit should read DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - JUNE 14: Smoke rises after a huge fire engulfed the 24 storey residential Grenfell Tower block in Latimer Road, West London in the early hours of this morning on June 14, 2017 in London, England. The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has declared the fire a major incident as more than 200 firefighters are still tackling the blaze while at least 50 people are receiving hospital treatment. (Photo by Carl Court/Getty Images)
LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - JUNE 14: A fire rages through a residential tower block, Grenfell Tower, with the entire building engulfed in flames on June 14, 2017 in Kensington, West London, England. More than 200 firefighters are attending the incident and there are reports of people trapped inside. No figures are available as to casualties. PHOTOGRAPH BY Paul Davey / Barcroft Images London-T:+44 207 033 1031 E:hello@barcroftmedia.com - New York-T:+1 212 796 2458 E:hello@barcroftusa.com - New Delhi-T:+91 11 4053 2429 E:hello@barcroftindia.com www.barcroftimages.com (Photo credit should read Paul Davey / Barcroft Images / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - JUNE 14: Smoke rises from the burning 24 storey residential Grenfell Tower block in Latimer Road, West London on June 14, 2017 in London, England. The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has declared the fire a major incident as more than 200 firefighters are still tackling the blaze while at least 50 people are receiving hospital treatment. (Photo by Carl Court/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - JUNE 14: A photographer takes photos as smoke continues to rise from the building after a huge fire engulfed the 24 storey residential Grenfell Tower block in Latimer Road, West London in the early hours of this morning on June 14, 2017 in London, England. The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has declared the fire a major incident as more than 200 firefighters are still tackling the blaze while at least 50 people are receiving hospital treatment. (Photo by Leon Neal/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - JUNE 14: A man looks distressed as he speaks to a fire fighter after a huge fire engulfed the 24 storey residential Grenfell Tower block in Latimer Road, West London in the early hours of this morning on June 14, 2017 in London, England. The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has declared the fire a major incident as more than 200 firefighters are still tackling the blaze, while at least 50 people are receiving hospital treatment. (Photo by Leon Neal/Getty Images)
LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - JUNE 14: Evacuated residents wait o the pavement near the scene after a fire raged through a residential tower block, Grenfell Tower, with the entire building engulfed in flames on June 14, 2017 in Kensington, West London, England. More than 200 firefighters are attending the incident and there are reports of people trapped inside. No figures are available as to casualties. PHOTOGRAPH BY Paul Davey / Barcroft Images London-T:+44 207 033 1031 E:hello@barcroftmedia.com - New York-T:+1 212 796 2458 E:hello@barcroftusa.com - New Delhi-T:+91 11 4053 2429 E:hello@barcroftindia.com www.barcroftimages.com (Photo credit should read Paul Davey / Barcroft Images / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)
Smoke billows from a tower block severly damaged by a serious fire, in north Kensington, West London, Britain June 14, 2017. REUTERS/Neil Hall
LONDON, ENGLAND - JUNE 14: Smoke rises from the building after a huge fire engulfed the 24 storey residential Grenfell Tower block in Latimer Road, West London in the early hours of this morning on June 14, 2017 in London, England. The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has declared the fire a major incident as more than 200 firefighters are still tackling the blaze while at least 50 people are receiving hospital treatment (Photo by Kate Green/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - JUNE 14: Fire fighters tackle the building after a huge fire engulfed the 24 storey residential Grenfell Tower block in Latimer Road, West London in the early hours of this morning on June 14, 2017 in London, England. The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has declared the fire a major incident as more than 200 firefighters are still tackling the blaze while at least 50 people are receiving hospital treatment. (Photo by Carl Court/Getty Images)
Local residents watch as Grenfell Tower is engulfed by fire on June 14, 2017 in west London. The massive fire ripped through the 27-storey apartment block in west London in the early hours of Wednesday, trapping residents inside as 200 firefighters battled the blaze. Police and fire services attempted to evacuate the concrete block and said 'a number of people are being treated for a range of injuries', including at least two for smoke inhalation. / AFP PHOTO / Daniel LEAL-OLIVAS (Photo credit should read DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP/Getty Images)
TOPSHOT - Two men hug within the security cordon as Grenfell Tower is engulfed by fire on June 14, 2017 in west London. The massive fire ripped through the 27-storey apartment block in west London in the early hours of Wednesday, trapping residents inside as 200 firefighters battled the blaze. Police and fire services attempted to evacuate the concrete block and said 'a number of people are being treated for a range of injuries', including at least two for smoke inhalation. / AFP PHOTO / Daniel LEAL-OLIVAS (Photo credit should read DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/AFP/Getty Images)
Firefighters stand amid debris in a childrens playground near a tower block severly damaged by a serious fire, in north Kensington, West London, Britain June 14, 2017. REUTERS/Neil Hall
Two women sit on the grass after a tower block was severly damaged by a serious fire, in north Kensington, West London, Britain June 14, 2017. REUTERS/Neil Hall
A firefighter directs a jet of water at a tower block severely damaged by a serious fire, in north Kensington, West London, Britain June 14, 2017. REUTERS/Neil Hall
Smoke billows from a tower block severly damaged by a serious fire, in north Kensington, West London, Britain June 14, 2017. REUTERS/Toby Melville
Emergency fire services tackle a blaze at Grenfell Tower near Notting Hill on 14th June 2017 in West London, United Kingdom. The huge fire engulfed the tower block, trapping many people in their homes. A number of fatalities are reported. The block of flats in the Borough of Kensington and Chelsea,�billowed large plumes of smoke way above the capital after the blaze broke out in the early hours of Wednesday morning. Londoners came out on the streets to help, offer food and water, support and assistance to those who had lost their homes or didnt know the whereabouts of their friends and family. (photo by Mike Kemp/In Pictures via Getty Images)
A firefighter directs a jet of water at a tower block severely damaged by a serious fire, in north Kensington, West London, Britain June 14, 2017. REUTERS/Neil Hall
Water and other drinks are laid out near a tower block severely damaged by a serious fire, in north Kensington, West London, Britain June 14, 2017. REUTERS/Neil Hall
Flames leap from a tower block severly damaged by a serious fire, in north Kensington, West London, Britain June 14, 2017. REUTERS/Neil Hall
A man comforts a boy after a tower block was severly damaged by a serious fire, in north Kensington, West London, Britain June 14, 2017. REUTERS/Neil Hall
Firefighters stand amid debris in a childrens playground near a tower block severly damaged by a serious fire, in north Kensington, West London, Britain June 14, 2017. REUTERS/Neil Hall
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Stuart said officers had been shocked.

"All of us here, working down on Grenfell Tower or working on it anywhere, are just so disappointed that something like that can happen on the back of such a huge tragedy," he said.

Extra alarms, cameras and lights have now been installed and procedures to access the site have been strengthened.

Police are also investigating eight cases of suspected fraud by people who pretended to have been affected by the fire in various ways in order to claim money that the government made available for survivors and bereaved relatives.

Two people have been charged with fraud, one is on police bail and five others are under investigation.

31 MILLION DOCUMENTS

The criminal probe into the fire itself involves hundreds of officers and is focusing on four strands: the construction of Grenfell Tower, its refurbishment, its management and the emergency response to the fire.

"I will seek to identify and deal with whatever offenses come to light during that investigation," said Detective Chief Inspector Matt Bonner, who is in charge of the criminal investigation.

He said offenses that the police may uncover could include fraud, misconduct, breaches of health and safety or fire regulations, and manslaughter. Charges could be brought against individuals or organizations.

However, Bonner said this should not be taken as an indication that police had already found evidence to support any such charges.

Grenfell Tower, which was completed in 1974, was owned by the borough of Kensington and Chelsea and managed by an organization that ran social housing on the borough's behalf.

Bonner said police had so far identified 336 companies or organizations that were involved in the construction, refurbishment and management of the tower and officers had obtained 31 million documents from them.

(Reporting by Estelle Shirbon; Editing by Stephen Addison and Robin Pomeroy)

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