As the Grenfell inquiry opens, families give moving and harrowing testimonies

Marcio Gomes described how he, his wife Andreia and their daughters fled their 21st floor flat only for their son Logan to be stillborn that night
(Sky News)

The family of the youngest victim of the Grenfell Tower fire have paid tribute to their “beautiful, sleeping angel” on the opening day of a public inquiry into the blaze.

Marcio Gomes described how he, his wife Andreia and their daughters fled their flat on the 21st floor, only for their unborn son Logan to die later that night before he could be delivered.

As an image was projected onto a screen of Mr Gomes cradling Logan’s body, he described “wishing and praying for any kind of miracle, he would open his eyes, move or make a sound”. “As we know, that never happened,” he added.

Mr Gomes and his wife cried as he explained how “everything was ready” for Logan’s birth, which was due on 21 August. His nursery had been decorated and they had placed a poster on the wall reading: “Twinkle twinkle little star, do you know how loved you are”, Mr Gomes said.

The family had planned to go to Disneyland in the summer 2018, Mr Gomes said, adding that his daughters were already discussing which football team the baby would support.

Logan’s sisters “didn’t care about the nursery, they wanted him to sleep with them in their beds and take care of him. We are proud of him, even though he was only with us for seven months, he is always going to be with us,” Mr Gomes said, hugging his wife. “You don’t know what you are made of until you are broken. My wife is made of the hardest material I know and without her strength and courage I would not be here.”

The families of each of the 72 victims of the fire have the opportunity to make a statement to the inquiry, with no time limit on the amount of time allocated to each person.

Retired judge Sir Martin Moore-Bick, who is chairing the probe, described the 24 June fire as an “unimaginable horror” that was shocking to experience, even second-hand.

Opening the hearings at the Millennium Gloucester Hotel in Kensington, he said the victims “will be remembered by the people who knew them best and loved them most”.

Denis Murphy, 56, who died in his home on the 14th floor, was commemorated in a statement read by his sister. “Mum says he was born with a twinkle in his eye and a smile on his face. He kept this trademark for the rest of his life,” she said.

Denis Murphy ‘was born with a twinkle in his eye and a smile on his face’, says his family (Met Police/PA)

She described how once when Mr Murphy was a child, he gave his bus money to his brother, who had forgotten his. Mr Murphy was a gifted long-distance runner and football player and chose to run the five-mile distance home instead, she said.

“Denis took on the responsibility of not only being a big brother, but being a dad to us,” his sister said. “Denis was a loving son, father, brother, uncle, friend and our hero. He was the linchpin of our family.”

To laughter in the conference room, she said: “Denis had three biggest loves: family, friends and Chelsea football club – and not always in that order.”

She said it was painful the fire had destroyed most of his belongings, adding that only a handful of his coins remained. But they were poignant, she said, since he was always willing to give the last of his change to anyone in need.

“Other people always featured first and foremost in Denis’s life,” she continued. “Ever since Denis has been gone there’s a gaping hole in our hearts. The day Denis died a part of all of us died too.”

Tottenham MP David Lammy appeared alongside the family of Mary Mendy, 54, and her daughter Khadija Saye, 24, who were at home in their flat on the 20th floor of the tower on the night of the fire.

A statement from Ms Mendy’s niece remembered her as a ”warm and kind” person who welcomed everyone into her home.

“My aunt was my hero, she has been in my life for every major event. For the first time my aunt is not a phone call away,” it said. “She is not there to hear my complaints, or to gossip. My aunt was the strong one, the fighter and the protector. The pain is unbearable.”

From now on, there will be two empty chairs around the family table at every celebration, Ms Mendy’s niece said in the statement. “I hate night time because night brings silence and silence brings tears of sadness,” she said. “All of the tears will be replaced with memories of joy. Until we meet again.”

A statement read on behalf of Ms Saye’s father described the 24-year-old as “very gentle, very kind and friendly”.

The family played a clip of a BBC documentary about Ms Saye and her photographs, which were exhibited at the prestigious Venice Biennale.

In the film, Ms Saye describes how difficult it was for her to enter the art world, which was full of privileged people for whom the “sky’s the limit”. She was planning on taking her mother to the exhibition, she says, adding: “I’m not giving up yet and she won’t be giving up either.”

Asked by The Independent whether the presentation did justice to the lives of Ms Mendy and Ms Saye, Mr Lammy said: “How can you do a life justice? You can’t do a life justice, you can only give a small portrait of a life and what was struck down.”

Ms Mendy’s sister, Betty Mendy, said she thought the emotional presentation fairly represented her sister and niece, saying she shook uncontrollably throughout it.

Khadija Saye was ‘very gentle, kind and friendly’, said a statement read on behalf of her father (PA)

Richard Millett, the lead counsel to the inquiry, said beginning the probe with memorial statements meant “we will never lose sight of who our work is for and why we are doing it”.

Speaking at the opening of the inquiry, he said: “Grenfell was not a lawyer’s argument or a scientist’s experiment. Grenfell was home. Its flats were private and supposedly safe spaces. It was a human space for human lies, each unique, that is what a home is.”

Another of the victims, Mohamed Amied Neda, 57, was remembered by his son as a “calm and very kind man”.

A voice message Mr Neda left for his family was played to the hearing in which he said: “Goodbye, we are leaving this world now, I hope I haven’t disappointed you. Goodbye.”

All the victims’ names will be read out at the end of each day of the commemorative hearings, but around six victims will not have presentations because their families decided not to participate.

A spokesman for campaign group Justice 4 Grenfell said the commemorative hearings would be “greatly strengthening for bereaved families and survivors to go forward to the following sessions of the public inquiry greatly focused on finding out the truth”.

He said the first phase of the inquiry would discuss complex technical issues and “there is no reason why these can’t be explained in plain English: in fact, this will be a litmus test of how inclusive the inquiry really is”.

The hearings follow a week of victories for Grenfell campaign groups, who were granted their demand for a diverse panel to sit alongside Sir Martin.

Grime artist Stormzy joined more than 150,000 people in asking for the new panel, which is expected to be appointed for the second phase of the inquiry. The government also promised to consult on banning flammable cladding from high-rise buildings.

Slater and Gordon barrister Kieran Mitchell, who is representing three victims’ families, said the opportunity for them to have their voices listened to had been “a long time coming”.

He said: “Starting this inquest process with statements and images means we have an stark understanding of how this horrific event has obliterated so many lives. On behalf of our clients, we are grateful they are have been granted this opportunity to finally reveal the impact these truly terrible events have had on them.

“However, this is just the beginning. We must get the answers everyone craves and understand how this tragedy could ever have been allowed to happen. Ultimately our clients want justice and we will not rest until those culpable are held accountable.”

One of the survivors of the Grenfell Tower fire has been forced to leave his new flat after a blaze broke out next door, leaving him without a home. Luca Branislav, who lived on the 11th floor of the tower block, was moved to a new flat after the devastating fire but has been left confused and lost that something similar could happen again.

Speaking to the BBC’s Panorama last night, Mr Branislav said: “It was four o’clock in the morning when I woke up in a room full of smoke. I wasn’t sure if it was a dream or if it was reality but then I realised there was a blue light outside,” he said. “I just really... I don’t know. Very confusing, pretty much, to get through all that stuff again, but luckily I am out.” He is now back in a hotel.

Although the commemorations for Grenfell are taking place in south Kensington, the rest of phase one of the inquiry will take place at Holborn Bars in central London, where several procedural hearings have already happened.

During the commemorative hearings, private rooms, quiet areas and a prayer room will be available for the bereaved, survivors and residents and there will be counselling and NHS support.

The probe is believed to have the largest ever number of core participants, with more than 500 survivors, bereaved families and friends, and members of the north Kensington community participating.

Some 533 people have been made core participants in the inquiry, including 21 children. Twenty-nine organisations are core participants.

The main hearing room has a capacity of 500 people and bereaved, survivors and residents will be reserved seats at the front each day.

Natasha Elcock, who was rescued from the 11th floor of Grenfell Tower, said the public “deserve to hear the wonderful characters that were in that block, the public deserve to hear what it is that we’ve lost as a community”.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, she said: “My heart goes out to every single bereaved family who are doing pen portraits this week and next week, but I am immensely proud of them, because through all the grief and the sorrow they are going through – the trauma – they want to do their relatives proud, they want to ensure that their memory is brought to this inquiry and I think it’s exceptionally important that it starts with this.”

She added: “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.”