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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 19 September 2018

‘No one should die in such a horrific way,’ say Grenfell families

An inquiry has begun into last June’s inferno in London which claimed 72 lives

A tribute near Grenfell Tower on the day of a commemoration hearing at the opening of the inquiry into the disaster, in London, May 21, 2018. Henry Nicholls / Reuters
A tribute near Grenfell Tower on the day of a commemoration hearing at the opening of the inquiry into the disaster, in London, May 21, 2018. Henry Nicholls / Reuters

On the first day of what is expected to be a harrowing two weeks of personal accounts of the people who were lost in last June’s Grenfell Tower inferno in London, the family of one of the victims stated simply that no one should ever suffer such a “horrific” death.

Denis Murphy, 56, who lived on the 14th floor, called his relatives to say he was trapped as the blaze swept through the building in the early hours of June 14, 2017, but as they tried to reassure him that he would get out, it was the last time they spoke to him.

“There is no reason in the world why anyone should have death forced upon them in such a horrific way,” said his sister Anne-Marie. “The day Denis died a part of all of us died too.”

It was one of many emotional tributes to the 72 victims of the inferno which are being heard as part of an inquiry into the tragedy which opened on Monday.

The first day of the inquiry also heard from the families of a stillborn baby, a retired Afghan army officer and an artist who died in the blaze, among others.

The inquiry is tasked with establishing the root causes of the fire in the 24-storey social housing block in West London.

But before it digs into the details of what happened, it is giving bereaved family and friends the chance to commemorate their loved ones, either by reading statements or by showing photos and videos.

“It’s going to be a tough week,” said Ana Ospina, whose 12-year-old niece Jessica was killed in the blaze. Writing on Twitter, she added: “Let’s hope that the truth prevails and that justice is served on those culpable for this horrific fire.”

While the official death toll is 71, the inquiry will look into 72 deaths – including one victim, Maria del Pilar Burton, who died in January having been in hospital since the fire. All the names of the dead will be read out at the hearings, although it is understood that not all families will present a tribute.

Retired judge Sir Martin Moore-Bick, who is chairing the inquiry, opened proceedings on Monday by calling for 72 seconds of silence as a mark of respect for each of the victims.

Richard Millett, lead counsel to the inquiry, then spoke about the importance of not losing sight of the human tragedy in the pursuit of facts and figures. Residents of Grenfell, an ethnically diverse community, worked, played and prayed together and many also died together, he said.

The stage was then handed to the bereaved, starting with father of a baby boy, Logan Gomes, who was Grenfell’s youngest victim.

Describing his son as “my superstar”, Marcio Gomes gave a heartbreaking account of the family’s experience as they fled from their flat on the 21st floor at 4 am on June 14.

Logan, who was due to be born in August, was instead stillborn later that day. “He looked like he was just sleeping,” Marcio said. “I held my son in my arms that day, hoping that it was all a bad dream.”

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The father spoke of how excited his daughters had been to meet their new baby brother before the tragedy, and how they’d argued over whose bedroom he would sleep in once he was born. He also paid tribute to his wife Andreia, who survived after she was put in an induced coma and treated for cyanide poisoning.

“[Logan] will always be with us in our hearts,” he said, as he choked back tears.

The Murphy family spoke next. Denis’s sister, Anne-Marie, painted a picture of a man whose three biggest loves were family, friends and Chelsea football club – “not always in that order”, she joked.

The Irish man called his family every week, she said. His final phone call was at 02:32, as the flames spread through the building. “Ever since Denis has gone there is a gaping hole in our lives,” Anne-Marie said. He was “our hero”, she added, and the “lynchpin to our family".

The first day also heard about Mohammed Neda, an ex-official from the Afghan army, who lived on the 23rd floor. He was one of more than 40 Muslims who died in the blaze.

Lawyers read out statements on behalf of his family, describing how he grew up in Afghanistan and fled Taliban persecution in the 1990s with his wife and son. They chose Britain for its tolerance and respect for human rights. “We were very proud to be British citizens,” said a statement from his widow, Flora.

In London, Mohammed rebuilt his life from scratch, joining the chauffeur business. A hardworking man, he never took a single day off sick, the family said. His son Farhad described his father as “my best friend and the man I admire most”, and spoke of his “deep pain” at knowing he would not be at his wedding or ever meet his grandchildren.

Both Flora and Farhad were in a coma after the fire, and Mohammed was missing. His body was eventually identified using DNA from his son. "Our hopes and our dreams have been shattered," Flora said. "He will always be the love of my life."

In his final phone call, played to the inquiry, he said: "We are now leaving this world, goodbye. I hope I haven't disappointed you."

A brief tribute was heard next to Joseph Daniels, an elderly man who reportedly suffered from dementia and refused to leave his flat on the 16th floor despite the fire engulfing the building. “He never stood a chance of getting out. It should never have happened,” his son Sam told the inquiry. Sam requested no applause after his address.

The final tribute of the day was to artist Khadija Saye and her mother Mary Mendy, who lived together on the 20th floor.

Khadija’s father talked with pride about his daughter’s passion for photography. A film made about her before the Venice Biennale show was also played to the inquiry, in which she spoke about how she was raised by a Muslim father and Christian mother.

Ms Mendy’s niece also gave a statement, describing her “complete devotion” to her daughter. “There will be two empty chairs on the table for every birthday, Christmas and New Year’s,” she said.

The Grenfell fire shocked Britain and raised questions about the rich-poor divide in the country, partly because it occurred in a deprived, ethnically diverse pocket of one of London’s richest boroughs, Kensington and Chelsea. Many residents accused authorities of ignoring safety concerns raised months before the fire.

The hearings are taking place at the Millennium Gloucester Hotel in South Kensington, which is near the charred ruins of the tower.

The venue was changed from a central London location after campaigners argued it would inflict further trauma on the survivors by forcing them to travel in cramped and claustrophobic Tube tunnels to get there.

More tributes will be heard in the coming days, while oral hearings into the circumstances of the fire will start on June 4, taking in evidence from witnesses, experts and organisations.

Separately from the public inquiry, the police are conducting an investigation into the fire which could result in criminal charges against organisations involved in the construction, maintenance or refurbishment of the tower, or against individuals.

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