London: Survivors of London’s deadly Grenfell Tower fire wept on Monday as they listened to a bereaved father pay tribute to his baby son and heard a recording of another victim making his last phone call from the burning building.
Those were among many heartbreaking moments on the first day of oral hearings at a public inquiry into the blaze, which killed 71 people in the social housing block in the night of June 14, 2017.
The fire shocked Britain and led to an outpouring of angst over whether poor quality social housing and neglect by the authorities of a deprived, ethnically diverse community had played a part in the tragedy.
The public inquiry, which will last many months, aims to establish the causes of the disaster, but first it has invited family and friends of those who died to talk about their lost loved ones and show pictures or videos if they wish.
Marcio Gomes, who fled from the 21st floor through thick, poisonous fumes with his heavily pregnant wife Andreia and their two daughters, went first with a highly emotional tribute to his son Logan, who was stillborn in hospital hours after the family’s escape.
“I held my son in my arms, hoping it was all a bad dream, wishing, praying for a miracle, that he would open his eyes, move, make a sound,” Gomes said, crying as he spoke with his wife by his side.
Andreia was in an induced coma being treated for cyanide poisoning at the moment of Logan’s birth. He had been due to be born on August 21, 2017.
Family photographs from before and after the tragedy flashed up on a screen, including an ultrasound scan image of unborn Logan in his mother’s womb, and images of him just after his birth, as well as photographs from his funeral.
“WE ARE NOW LEAVING THIS WORLD”
The inquiry also heard a recording of Afghan immigrant Mohammad Saber Neda phoning a relative from the 24-storey block.
“Goodbye. We are now leaving this world, goodbye. I hope I haven’t disappointed you. Goodbye to all,” Neda was heard saying in a calm voice in the voicemail message, as a photograph of him was shown on the screen.
Neda’s brother, son and wife paid moving tributes to the 56-year-old who ran his own chauffeur business.
Other Grenfell relatives and friends, lawyers and journalists in the hearing room wept as they watched and listened to one harrowing moment after another.
The commemoration hearings are expected to last nine days, although the schedule is uncertain as the inquiry has set no time limit for the tributes.
The oral hearings into the circumstances of the fire will start later, on June 4.
Separately from the public inquiry, the police are conducting a criminal investigation which could result in charges against organisations or individuals involved in the construction, maintenance or refurbishment of the tower.
While the official death toll from the fire is 71, the inquiry will commemorate 72 people as it is including Maria del Pilar Burton, a resident of the tower who died in January, having never left hospital since she escaped from the fire.
At the start of Monday’s hearing, everyone in the inquiry hearing room, at a conference centre in a hotel in Kensington, stood in silence for 72 seconds to honour each victim.
Critics have accused the government and the local authority in Kensington and Chelsea of not doing enough done to rehouse the survivors and help them rebuild their lives.
As of Monday, 139 out of the 210 Grenfell households in need of a new home had moved into temporary or permanent properties.
The remainder were still in other forms of housing, including 15 households still in what is classed as emergency accommodation, according to figures from the local authority.