Anger at the government response to the #Grenfell Tower fire has burst into the open at the public inquiry, as relatives of two entire families who were killed delivered gruelling personal tributes and a nine-year-old girl became the youngest person to speak about her grief.
One woman collapsed in the auditorium aisle following a harrowing commemoration for a family who lived on the 22nd floor. Hashim Kedir, 44, and Nura Jemal, 35, originally from Ethiopia, and their three children, Yahya, 13, Firdaws, 12, and Yaqub, six, died together.
In a blistering statement read out by her lawyer, Mark Scott, Assema Kedir Habib, Kedir’s sister, recounted the family’s desperate final 999 call. She said he was telling his six-year-old son he loved him.
“I then heard Yaqub replying, ‘I love you too, daddy’,” she said. “All the joy and energy from his voice was drawn out and they were replaced by heart-wrecking confusion, sadness and fear.”
She questioned whether the attempts to save people had stopped too soon and said “some responsible government department” must have been “just sitting and watching them turn to ashes”.
“Why didn’t the UK as a government try to do more that night?” she asked. “Why wasn’t more done to at least save their dead bodies? Was it because the lives of the victims of Grenfell Tower didn’t matter? Was it because our pain doesn’t matter? Was the cost of trying to do more higher than the lives of our loved ones? Was a price set for the precious, unfairly short-lived lives of Yaqub, Firdaws and Yahya?”
The inquiry had heard Yaqub’s “simple presence was a spark of happiness” and the family had been planning to visit Disneyland on Yahya’s 14th birthday in August 2017. Firdaws had an exceptional singing voice and was emerging as talented public speaker, and had been awarded a debating prize by Bill Gates three months before she died.
Jemal was a devout Muslim and Kedir had recently earned his black-cab licence, so he could spend more time with his family after years of long hours working as a builder, parking attendant and electrician.
“Dying is one thing. How to die is another thing and how you are treated after you die is a third thing,” Kedir Habib said.
“Our family members were let down on all three levels. They were made to live in a chimney. They were instructed repeatedly and for a long time to stay in their flat when everyone understood from the first 20 minutes that the fire was far from usual. They were cremated unwillingly.”