Poignant testimony heard as inquiry into London’s Grenfell Tower fire opens
Nearly a year after Britain’s deadliest blaze, victims’ relatives complain there are ‘still so many unanswered questions’
Fighting back tears, relatives of the victims of the Grenfell Tower fire paid emotional tribute in words, photos and recordings to their loved ones on Monday as an inquiry opened into Britain’s deadliest blaze.
Seventy-one people and an unborn child died in the fire of June 14, 2017, which was caused by a faulty fridge and devastated a 24-floor residential block in west London in the early hours of the morning.
“Now we are almost at the year anniversary of the fire and there are still so many unanswered questions,” said a statement by Mohamed Araf Neda, whose brother Mohamed ‘Saber’ Neda died in the inferno.
“I hope we can get more answers from this inquiry and, more importantly, justice. All I know was my brother was a hero,” he said, pointing out that his brother had helped others get out of the tower. “That is the memory I will hold in my heart as long as I live.”
The public investigation, which is expected to take evidence in two phases, opened with emotional statements that reflected that feelings remain very raw about the way the disaster was handled.
British Prime Minister Theresa May earlier this month bowed to concerted pressure from victims’ families by appointing new experts to assist in the second stage of the inquiry, which is being led by retired judge Martin Moore-Bick.
At a London hotel, relatives of six victims kicked off the first phase of the inquiry, which is expected to spend nine days commemorating those who lost their lives.
The second phase, which will run until November, will hear testimony from others hit by the tragedy.
Monday’s session opened in a sombre atmosphere, with 72 seconds of silence marking each life lost.
Breaking the silence, Moore-Bick noted the fire was “the single greatest tragedy to befall this city since the second world war”.
“During the coming days there will be much sorrow,” he said. “But that sorrow will, I hope, be tempered with the memories of past happiness, of times spent together, and of former joys.”
One of the disaster’s most poignant cases was the first to be commemorated: the death of Logan Gomes, a baby who was stillborn in hospital after his parents escaped from the tower’s 21st floor.
His father Marcio Gomes, flanked by wife Andreia and their legal team, offered a heart-wrenching account of the impact of losing his unborn son.
“He might not be here physically but he will always be here in our hearts,” a tearful Gomes said. “He was so peaceful, so restful … our sleeping angel – that’s what he was.”
An ultrasound image of Logan Gomes was shown with other photos of a nursery the couple had prepared inside their flat in the tower.
“You never know what you’re made of until you’re broken,” Gomes said.
Embracing his wife as tears streamed down both of their faces, he said: “I can tell you this: my wife is made of the hardest material and without her strength and courage I would not be here.”
Other relatives chronicled the lives of their loved ones, laying out the impact of their agonising losses.
“Ever since Denis has gone, there’s a gaping hole in our hearts that can’t be filled and it hurts, it really hurts,” said Anne-Marie Murphy, whose 56-year-old brother died in the block. “We can’t imagine a day when it won’t hurt any less.”
Richard Millett, lead counsel to the inquiry, called the process “a search for truth”.
“Grenfell is not a lawyer’s argument or scientists’ experiment … Grenfell was home,” he said. “It was a human space for human lives, each unique – that is what a home is.”
Natasha Elcock, who was rescued from the 11th floor, earlier told BBC radio that the bereaved wanted “to do their relatives proud”.
“We must remember all of those people that died and we must keep them in our hearts and our minds all the way through this inquiry until the bitter end,” she said.