Lord Pickles apologises to Grenfell families after confusing death toll with Hillsborough disaster

Eric Pickles/Grenfell
Lord Eric Pickles appeared before the Grenfell Inquiry last week

A peer and former Cabinet minister has apologised - saying he "misspoke" when he got the number of people who died in the Grenfell Tower fire wrong as he appeared before the inquiry.

Lord Eric Pickles said that 96 people died in the fire in 2017, when the correct number was 72.

In an email to the inquiry after last week's comments he apologised for the "unintended mistake".

Lord Pickles, who was secretary of state at the Department for Communities and Local Government between 2010 and 2015, made reference to the victims as the "nameless 96 people" when he appeared before the inquiry into the west London tower block fire on Thursday.

In an email published by the inquiry as a new module of hearings got under way on Monday, he said that, in preparing to give evidence, he had "other tragedies, including Hillsborough" on his mind.

The politician, who was also chairman of the Conservative Party from 2009 to 2010, wrote that he "misspoke".

He added: "In my final remarks I misspoke and referenced the 96 people that died in and immediately after Hillsborough.

"I apologise to the family and friends of the 72 people who died at Grenfell for this unintended mistake, which was unscripted.

"The dead are remembered not as a statistic but with dignity by their families, survivors and all of us."

He asked that the email be published alongside his evidence.

Following his remarks last week, survivors’ group Grenfell United criticised him for what it branded his "utter disregard" for victims and called for his removal from Government and the House of Lords.

In a statement, the group said: "Eric Pickles’ disrespect at the inquiry has left us speechless.

"How dare he refer to our loved ones we lost that night as ‘the 96 nameless’.

"Seventy-two people died in Grenfell and none of them were nameless.

"His utter disregard for what happened and to those no longer with us is horrifying, given that he had the ability as minister of housing to reform building safety.”

The group added: "Eric Pickles must be removed from Government and The Lords.

"Otherwise, Government continues to show the contempt it’s always had for people’s safety in this country."

The former MP for Brentwood and Ongar also appeared to become frustrated with how much of his time the inquiry was taking up last week, as he gave a second day of evidence.

He told lead counsel to the inquiry Richard Millett QC: “By all means sir, feel free to ask me as many questions as you like, but could I respectfully remind you that you did promise that we would be away this morning and I have changed my schedules to fit this in.

Eric Pickles at the Grenfell Inquiry last week

"I do have an extremely busy day.

"But this is more important than anything, but I would urge you to use your time wisely.”

Mr Millett replied: "Right… may I please have an answer to my question?"

However, at the end of his evidence in the afternoon Lord Pickles thanked the inquiry for the "professional and courteous" way he was treated.

In return, Grenfell Inquiry chairman Sir Martin Moore-Bick thanked him for his time, adding: "I am sorry that it interfered with your arrangements for today, but there were things that we needed to ask you."