June 21, 2017 / 11:10 AM / 2 years ago

After tower inferno, UK plans to create victims' advocate role

Extensive damage is seen to the Grenfell Tower block which was destroyed in a disastrous fire, in north Kensington, West London, Britain June 16, 2017. REUTERS/Hannah McKay

LONDON (Reuters) - The British government plans to introduce a public advocate who will act for bereaved families after any disaster, it announced on Wednesday, a week after a catastrophic fire killed 79 people at a social housing tower block in London.

The government and local authority’s response to the Grenfell Tower blaze has been widely criticised, with complaints from bereaved families and people who lost their homes that they were not given any information or support by official agencies.

“The purpose of the Independent Public Advocate is to keep the bereaved and surviving victims of disasters informed of progress in any relevant investigation and make them fully aware how they can contribute to that investigation,” said the government in a document detailing its legislative programme for the next two years.

“The Public Advocate would ensure that, in the event of disasters involving multiple fatalities and where there are numerous persons affected, no individuals or families are sidelined in what will necessarily be large and complex proceedings,” the document said.

Prime Minister Theresa May, already politically weakened since losing her parliamentary majority in a June 8 election, was heavily criticised for her personal handling of the tower fire, which was perceived to be insensitive.

On a first visit to the scene of the disaster, she met only senior members of the emergency services and stayed away from people affected by the blaze and members of the local community.

On a return visit during which she did meet people who had been caught up in the tragedy, she was booed and heckled by a crowd.

Reporting by Estelle Shirbon; editing by Guy Faulconbridge

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