LONDON: Britain marked on Thursday (Dec 14) the six-month anniversary of London's Grenfell Tower fire that killed 71 people, with most survivors still awaiting permanent housing and sagging confidence in a public probe into the tragedy.
Those who escaped the inferno and the families of the dead were joined by the royal family and Prime Minister Theresa May in a national memorial service at Saint Paul's Cathedral.
While the service was an opportunity for quiet reflection, anger at the disaster is still simmering, while the aftermath remains unresolved.
The fire, which started with a faulty refrigerator on the fourth floor, engulfed the 24-storey west London tower in the early hours of Jun 14, rapidly spreading up the new cladding on the outside.
The painstaking process to identify all the remains found in the tower took months.
"December 14 will be a special day for our community," said Shahin Sadafi, who chairs the Grenfell United survivors' group.
"We are coming together to remember the loved ones we lost in the fire, to unite as a community and to start to build hope for the future."
May joined the mourners for the service, after being forced to try to restore confidence in the public inquiry into the fire.
"We will welcome her, but she will have to come and face us and we will be asking those questions of her. It's not much to ask," said Sandra Ruiz, who lost her niece in the fire.
FAMILIES STILL IN HOTELS
Retired appeal court judge Martin Moore-Bick is presiding over the probe.
However, a 16,000-strong petition called for a diverse panel to assist him, fearing he would not have an understanding of issues like living in public housing.
A separate police investigation is also under way and will determine whether any criminal charges can be brought against individuals or corporate entities. It is expected to run until late 2018.
In the immediate aftermath of the tragedy, May promised that survivors would be guaranteed new homes on the same terms, within three weeks, as close as possible to the north Kensington area where they had been living.
However, of the 208 households needing rehousing, 118 are facing Christmas in emergency accommodation - many in hotels - or living with friends, said Grenfell United.
Some 42 families have moved into permanent accommodation, while a further 48 have accepted offers for permanent new housing but are still living in temporary quarters.
Many families do not want to accept temporary accommodation, fearing they will be parked there and forgotten about.
"We continue to do everything we can to support those affected, and take the necessary steps to make sure it can never happen again," May told parliament on Wednesday.
SERVICE OF SOLIDARITY
The Kensington and Chelsea local authority, which ran the tower, has been criticised by survivors and victims' families for its handling of the aftermath and for not heeding residents' prior warnings about fire safety in the building.
Grenfell residents had voiced concerns about a lack of sprinklers and the single staircase escape route - a common feature of 1970s tower blocks.
New local authority leader Elizabeth Campbell said she understood the anger directed at the council and out of respect would therefore not attend the service at Saint Paul's Cathedral.
The heir to the throne Prince Charles, his wife Camilla, sons Princes William and Harry and William's wife Kate will join the mourners.
Saint Paul's was chosen due to its national importance.
After a service filled with music, singing and an Islamic girls' choir, bereaved families and survivors will leave together in silence, holding white roses.
In the evening, a monthly memorial march will take place near the tower.
The charred ruin still serves as a tragic visual reminder in north Kensington, a poor, multi-cultural enclave in one of Europe's plushest city districts.
Some residents claim the flammable cladding was put on to make the concrete tower less of an eyesore for its wealthier neighbours.
"The people in Grenfell Tower were forgotten about and ignored before the fire," said Jacqui Haynes, chair of the wider Lancaster West estate's residents' association.
"Life in the shadow of the tower is a daily struggle to repair our fractured community, lest we forget what happened that night."