Residents that were evacuated after a gas explosion in Thornton Heath, south London, are “ready to fight for justice”, their local MP has said as she pressed the Government for “answers not excuses”.
More than 500 people were evacuated from Galpin’s Road in Thornton Heath, Merton, after a blast destroyed a terraced house and killed four-year-old Sahara Salman shortly after 7am on August 8.
Three other people were seriously injured in the south London incident, including an 11-year-old boy and a 54-year-old woman.
Opening her adjournment debate in the Commons, Labour MP Siobhain McDonagh dedicated it “in memory of Sahara” as several residents from Galpin’s Road watched on from the public gallery.
The Mitcham and Morden MP recalled how it took a “monumental” effort with Merton Council to provide immediate accommodation, food, financial support, clothes and supplies to hundreds of residents.
However, she insisted that support “should have come from the Government”.
“It seems to me that when a tragedy like this happens, the local council is left on their own.
“Why isn’t Government support immediately offered, and who should pick up the support bill? But most importantly, in a disaster like this, who should be responsible for supporting the grieving family?
“Given the number of stakeholders and the volume of important information being shared with them, I believe that there should be a single point of contact to support them”, Ms McDonagh said.
Sharing a quote Sahara’s mother wanted the MP to read out, Ms McDonagh said: “What I find absolutely outrageous is that 10 weeks after this horrific tragedy, my children and I still sleep on the floor as if we have not been through enough, we are still homeless.
“Why have we not been offered housing? Because at this stage, I’m getting sick and tired of hearing week after week that the police are doing their job and that the investigation continues.
“I need answers, not excuses.”
Ms McDonagh also criticised insurance companies insisting the council stepped in when “in many cases it clearly should have been the insurers”, adding: “There needs to be clarity.”
She concluded her speech saying: “Many of the residents believe that the explosion could have happened anywhere on that street, they count themselves lucky to be alive. They want to know that this tragedy happened and if it could have been prevented, and above all, they stand ready to fight for justice for the beautiful little girl that they lost as their neighbour.”
Communities minister Lee Rowley is said to be “incredibly sorry” Ms McDonagh “had to bring this debate today” and “for the awful events and the tragic events which have happened to her community”.
On Government support, Mr Rowley said: “The Bellwin scheme enables governments to consider a claim to help with some of the immediate costs following emergencies, and it allows that local authorities can receive help with the costs taken in the immediate phase of an emergency.
“We have been following up with the council and officials from the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities recently met with a delegation from Merton to discuss the possible application under that scheme.
“And I know that the council have a number of uninsurable costs that they incurred in the immediate response to the incident.”
Mr Rowley said he understands “work is currently under way” and his department “stands ready to assist the council with that application”.
On the insurers, the minister said: “I would expect every insurance company to put their customers first. It will be very clear which companies do and which companies do not, and we will be watching.”
House number 255 was obliterated by the explosion, while two neighbouring terraced homes suffered extensive damage and several more suffered smashed windows.
The gas company responsible for supplying the street, Southern Gas Networks (SGN), previously donated £500,000 to help the council support affected neighbours.
The Metropolitan Police’s Specialist Crime Command has launched a criminal investigation into the explosion.