Steven Power smiles contentedly in the photograph that has been stuck on a fence near the blackened ruin of Grenfell Tower. “Missing” is printed in bold letters across the top of the picture, and below it is a phone number and a plea from his family urging anyone who knows what happened to him to call.
The poster is one of dozens that line the fences, walls, lampposts and doorways around Grenfell, all reflecting the desperation of people who still do not know the whereabouts of friends and family members who lived in the tower. It has been more than two weeks since a fire swept through the social housing project in west London, and officials still do not know how many people died and cannot say for certain if all of the dead will ever be identified. For now, the best estimate by police is that 80 people died, but they say the final toll will not be known for months as the investigation continues.
That uncertainty has led to rising anger around Grenfell and across the country, as survivors and other groups band together to come up with their own figure and chastise police for what they claim has been a deliberate attempt to play down the tragedy. The outrage over the death count has also fuelled a general mistrust about the government’s efforts to respond to the fire, which have included promises to rehouse all those affected by next week, fire tests on more than 600 public buildings and the appointment of a retired judge to lead a public inquiry.
The anger began within hours of the fire on June 14. Police initially put the number of dead at 17, and have increased it gradually, settling on 80 this week while saying it could go higher. For many of those who survived the fire, or watched the 24-storey building burn that morning, the official count has seemed extraordinarily cautious. They saw many people trapped inside Grenfell crying for help before succumbing to flames, while others jumped from balconies.
“At least 150 people have died in the fire at Grenfell Tower,” a group called Justice 4 Grenfell says on its website, a total based on interviews with survivors. “They deserve justice. We demand answers.” Other groups put the figure at about 120, and one Labour MP, David Lammy, has said he is “sympathetic” to arguments that police have deliberately played down the number to prevent riots.
“What people say is that if you put the numbers out early, there could be civil unrest. That’s what they say,” Mr. Lammy, a London-area MP, told…