Grenfell: survivors lament fire brigade advice to stay inside

Father of five-year-old Isaac Paulos describes being told to ‘stay put’ after blaze started

The role of the fire brigade in discouraging families from fleeing Grenfell Tower during the fire emerged in tributes from families at the inquiry on Tuesday.

On the sixth day day of hearings to remember the victims, Paulos Tekle, who lost his five-year-old son, Isaac, in the blaze repeatedly asked why they had been advised to stay in their flat on the 18th floor until it was too late.

“Isaac made us happy every day,” his father said. “He was my spitting image. He was my little man.”

The family were originally from Ethiopia. In the Bible, Tekle said, God tested Abraham by asking him to sacrifice his son Isaac and then intervened at the last minute to save him. “[But] Isaac, my little boy was sacrificed.”

The night of the fire on 14 June 2017 the children went to sleep but the family was woken by noise in the corridors. “I rang the fire brigade and I was told to wait and that they would come and get us,” Tekle said.

“If I had not listened and left right away, Isaac would be here today. I called the fire brigade again and they told me to stay put.

“Isaac was following me around the flat. At around 2am, there was a knock on the door. It was the fire brigade. They said stay here and put blankets around the door frame. It was a further 45 minutes before they called and told me to leave right away.

After the family eventually left the flat, Isaac died after reportedly getting lost in the smoke.

“My son was beautiful. I will never forget his calm eyes waiting for us to save them all but I didn’t. That makes me angry. I have to live with the guilt. Every day I think what would have happened if we had not waited.

“I want the truth. I want to know why I was physically stopped from leaving the flat at 2am. Why were we kept inside for so long? My joy has gone. I will do everything to find the truth.”

Emmanuella Trevisan, the mother of the Italian architect Gloria Trevisan, who died on the top floor of Grenfell Tower, remembered her “light-hearted” 26-year-old daughter.

In her last phone call to her family as the flames closed in, Gloria told her parents: “Be strong. I hug you. I love you.”

Her mother told the inquiry: “It fills me with pain that this should have happened to my daughter. I taught my children not to feel any hate for anybody. I don’t feel hate but I feel anger inside me. I hope that will be a positive anger and I hope through this anger to find out the truth. Gloria was a girl who was full of life. Although she missed the sun and food [of Italy] she was very happy in her work here.”

Emmanuella said she had asked her daughter to come home for her husband’s wedding anniversary on 14 June but Gloria had promised to return the following week. “So it was destiny. It was meant to be that way.”

Whoever took the decision to put the cladding on the tower, she said, should “feel in their conscience the pain and grief that was caused to all of us”.

Earlier, the brother of a Grenfell Tower victim told how he kept a phone line open to his sister and mother until the moment they suffocated, trapped by flames and smoke on the top floors of the building.

Ahmed Elgwahry told the inquiry how he remained in touch with his 27-year-old sister Mariem and his mother Eslah as the fire engulfed the high-rise flats.

With his voice occasionally overcome by emotion, Ahmed recalled how he had spent the earlier part of the evening with Mariem, a marketing manager, before she returned to her home in Grenfell where she cared for their mother, whose health was declining.

Her friends remembered Mariem as always happy like “a ray of sunshine”, he said. “She was a beautiful, ambitious and talented woman. She wanted to succeed in her marketing career and she had fallen in love.” Ahmed had said goodbye to her earlier in the evening before the fire broke out. “Little did I know that would be the last time I saw her.”

A few hours later Mariem phoned her brother and his wife. She told them there was a fire in the building and she had already left the flat.

“I knew she was scared,” Ahmed said. “I told her to get the hell out of the building. She and my mum were trapped on the top floor even before I left [home].”

Mariem rang him again as he stood below the tower. “She started to calm down. She was trying to provide reassurance [to their mother].

“She could not see fire but it was clear she knew it was coming. She was trying to keep my Mum calm.

“The truth is that they were both trapped and there was no way out.” It would have been suicide to run into the building to try and rescue them, he added.

“I recall moments of silence between us on the phone ... I knew [Mariem] had a decision to make. I believe she could have made it out but she would never have left my mum. She stayed back and comforted her.


“She kept going until she was no longer audible. She started to mumble and there was banging on the floor and finally no response.

“About 20 seconds later I heard my Mum’s voice. She was struggling for breath. She said her last words: ‘I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe’. She was so frightened.”

Ahmed said he remained on the phone and could hear the sound of crackling as the fire pentrated the windows.

He added: “Mariem was one of many who had raised concerns about health and safety before the fire. On the night of the fire I heard her voice for the last time. Today she had no voice. I’m her voice.”

Voluntary organisations filled the void left by a lack of official direction in the wake of the Grenfell Tower fire, a report has found.

The report, Mind The Gap: A Review Of The Voluntary Sector Response To The Grenfell Tragedy, from the charity Muslim Aid, found that many voluntary organisations stepped up to the challenge of meeting the needs of the community where the statutory authorities fell short, particularly in the early stages.

The institutional response to the disaster was “badly flawed in the first crucial days, and the damage that resulted has been difficult to repair”, the report said, adding that the voluntary sector was “very much on the front line”.


Owen Bowcott

The GuardianTramp

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