Helpless families break down as they recall watching relatives perish in Grenfell blaze
Hisam Choucair lost his mum, sister, brother-in-law and three nieces in the devastating blaze, and told the public inquiry "we had to stand there for hours, helpless, watching them burn to death".
In a powerful tribute to his relatives he added: "In one night I have lost half my family, I feel like a stranger now, it has destroyed everything. I feel like part of me has been taken away.
"When I go past and look at the tower I have flashbacks. I know they are just pictures in my head, but I can actually see people behind those windows dying, trying to get out."
The second hearing of the public inquiry into the tragedy heard from the friends and families of 12 more victims in an emotional day.
Hundreds were made homeless and dozens killed on June 14, as flames quickly and fiercely took over the building full of sleeping families after a fire broke out in a flat kitchen.
The woman who live-streamed her final moments as the top floor of Grenfell Tower was engulfed with flames, three generations of the same family and the woman who never left hospital after escaping the fire were paid tribute to today.
Grieving friends and family told the stories of 12 more people lost to the blaze which tore through the West London tower block last year.
Today the loved ones of Debbie Lamprell, Maria del Pilar Burton, Rania Ibrahim, Fethia Hassan, Hania Hassan, Sirria Choucair, Nadia Choucair, Bassem Choucair, Mierna Choucair, Fatima Choucair, Zainab Choucair and Hesham Rahman spoke on their behalf.
The age of these 12 victims range from three years old to 74 – all died as a result of the fire almost a year ago.
Debbie's mum, Miriam, wrote an emotional statement about her only daughter which was read to the inquiry.
In it she described herself and her late husband, Reg, as "blessed".
She said: "When I think of Debbie I think of her laughing, she was always laughing.
"In many ways she had a blissful childhood, not because it was privilege but because we were always happy."
Debbie was a sports fan, and in particular, a Spurs fan – she would watch matches with her dad.
The 45-year-old loved hospitality and worked at Opera Holland Park, where an inscribed stone has been placed at the spot she would sit and watch performances.
Miriam added: "She would come and visit me every Saturday and bring me two scratchcards and she would say 'I really don’t know why I bring you these, we are so lucky'.
“My neighbour from downstairs said she knew when Debbie was visiting as they could hear the laughter.
“It wasn’t until I lost Debbie I realised how many friends she had, and what she meant to people.”
She said: "The night she died she texted me, ‘I’ve got in mum, alls well, goodnight, god bless’ I thought ‘that’s OK she’s safe’. I went to bed, I got up in the morning and I didn’t have a daughter.
“I am bereft without her, if she’d died a normal death I would have been able to hold her, comfort her and say goodbye, but I feel a part of me has been ripped out. Nothing seems worth it anymore."
Maria del Pilar Burton (Pily)
Maria, known as Pily, was described as a music, food and life lover, by her husband.
Wearing a green Grenfell heart pin he spoke warmly and emotionally of his partner for 34 years.
He broke down as he remembered breaking the news to her that everything in their flat was gone – including her parents' ashes.
Pilly died in January and became the fire's 72nd victim – she never left hospital after escaping the flames.
Nick, her husband, said: "She danced to everything, you couldn’t stop her. You couldn’t actually stop the whole family.
"Food was very important, Pilly’s paella was internationally known, everyone came to our house wanting paella.
“We really had a fantastic life, brilliant neighbours, like Debbie Lamprill, who was always in our house nattering with Pily.
"I love my wife and I was in complete awe of her, because the world generally revolved around her. Wherever she went everyone was for Pily. She wasn’t a princess, she was just a people’s person.
“It’s difficult to comprehend how many lives she affected.”
“On the night of the fire, I was with my wife, we had both fallen asleep on the sofa watching a DVD. I woke to discover the building was on fire.
“It was impossible to carry my wife down about 40 flights of stairs, so we had to wait to be rescued. During the rescue she had to be carried out by about 4 firefighters, emerging comatose."
After months of hospitalisation the 74-year-old had a stroke and later died after Nick kept a vigil in a private room – she took her last breath as her son walked into the room.
Nick told the inquiry: "I am truly blessed that I had 34 years with such a person, we had fun, we laughed, got to go through life together and it was wonderful.”
“No matter what indignities my wife had to suffer, my Pily was perfect.
Rania Ibrahim, Fethia Hassan and Hania Hassan
Rania and her two daughters were killed when they were trapped at the top of Grenfell Tower.
The young mum from Egypt live-streamed her last moments as it became clear she would not escaped the horrifying fire.
The 30-year-old's sister, Rasha, who last saw the family in January 2017, wrote a statement to be read at the inquiry.
She said: "It’s very difficult for me to think or talk about what came next, it has been so hard.
"After that terrible night came a cruel time of false hopes and rumours.
"I came here thinking I would be able to lay my loved ones to rest but there were months of uncertainty before they were identified and buried.
“It is so important for me to understand how it could come about that I have lost Rania, my beloved sister, while my children, who are so young, have lost their little cousins.
"I cannot lay them to rest yet.”
In a short film showing pictures of the family, Rasha added: "Since the time of the incident I hear Rania’s voice in my head all the time.
“I still write to her and talk to her all the time, even though she’s departed.
“She used to love life so much, she was all about being positive and active. She was happiness on earth. I feel broken.”
Mary Mendy and Khadija Saye
The mother and daughter were spoken of yesterday, but cousins, aunts and uncles of the beloved pair presented a series of poems, films and tributes to the inquiry today.
Mary's brother said in a statement: "When I heard about the fire at Grenfell I was full of dread, and when I found out that both Khadija and Mary were missing I was devastated.
"I simply could not and cannot come to terms with their loss, they were both just such lovely women.
"I think about both of them every day no matter where I am or what I am doing, I am not able to stop thinking about them and I don’t want to."
Mary's cousin Clarrie added: "We are so so sorry our father even helped you come to London, so you met this horrible death.
“Mary had you stayed on the smiling coast of west Africa the Gambia I am positive you would still be on this earth today.
“We pledge to fight for justice, truth accountability and restitution for the death of you, your daughter and the 71 other people consumed in the inferno who were you friends, community and friends.”
Another cousin, Ambrose, said in a recording played to the inquiry: "What has happened in Grenfell Tower is a disgrace it is disgusting, there are no other words for it.
"People’s lives have been taken away from them. Generation of homes, hope, that people invested their lives in is gone.
“This tall coffin in the air, what’s going to happen to it. How long will it remain there as a timely reminder of man’s inhumanity to man?"
One of Mary's cousins, an artist, presented a painting of Grenfell Tower he produced in grief.
Titled "Eyesore. Final straw", he gave it to the chairman of the inquiry as a gift.
He said: "There's a message there, it says 'to Sir Martin Moore-Bick, work until truth is laid bare'. Do it for humanity, do it for love.
“If we take our eye off the ball, something like this will happen. So it comes from a good place, thank you for listening.”
Sirria Choucair, Nadia Choucair, Bassem Choucair, Mierna Choucair, Fatima Choucair, Zainab Choucair
The family of six perished in the terrible fire last year.
Hisam Choucair, brother, son and uncle to them, paid tribute to his lost family members today.
He painted a picture of a happy family, always popping in to each other's homes and sharing food.
He said: "I was never happy with the building, I always had a bad feeling about it.”
Banks wouldn’t give them a mortgage when they knew they were on the 22nd floor – he added "this led me to believe that the banks were aware of something within the high rise social housing we were not aware of".
In his powerful closing statement, he said: “This inferno has split up families and smashed up their lives. None of the counselling I receive can ever repair what has already been done.
"I have to live with my family ripped apart for the rest of my life.
"I don’t see this as a tragedy; I see it as an atrocity because essentially there is segregation between the rich and the poor, I think they call it a postcode lottery.
“But I’m here to remember six lives. They were ordinary people, but they were also extraordinary people.
"They were my family, and they should still be here.”
The six are all buried together on a little slope in the village where the family is from in Lebanon.
Hesham Rahman's nephew, Karim, spoke of visiting his uncle's flat after the fire as he paid tribute to him.
He told the inquiry: "It was a sunny day and the lifts weren’t working, which used to happen quite a lot in Grenfell. I took the stairs all the way to the top. I suffer with asthma so it was quite a challenge for me to get to the top.
"I had to stop every three or few floors just to take a break and catch my breath."
He noted the narrow staircase and said: "I will never be able to get that picture of the staircase out of my head.
"The smudged fingerprints of the adults and kids on the staircase will stay with me forever.
"The melted wall fixtures and lights will give me an insight into the terror the survivors must have felt."
At the end of an emotional day, he finished with: "When you go home tonight, hug your loved ones, cherish every moment with them.
"Because until those in power listen and make changes to a system that failed until then only god knows how many homes are safe in this country."
He told the room: "You have a duty to the truth and not procedures, because we will not let you forget."
Yesterday the inquiry heard from a heartbroken dad who held his stillborn son – the youngest victim of the blaze.
Emotional Marcio Gomes told the inquiry how he learnt his "superstar" baby boy was stillborn as his wife and daughter lay in comas after escaping the flames from the 21st floor.
Richard Millett QC, lead counsel to the inquiry, said on the opening day: "Grenfell was a home.
"It was a human space for human lives, each unique – that is what a home is. For many who lived there, Grenfell wasn't a home but a place of refuge."
The commemorations are taking place at the Millennium Gloucester Hotel in south Kensington, a new venue closer to the Grenfell community – offering private rooms, a prayer room and counselling.
As the hearings are taking place during Ramadan, the morning sessions are expected to adjourn for lunch at 12.45pm to allow Muslims to prepare for the 1pm prayer.
The rest of phase one of the inquiry will take place at Holborn Bars in central London, where several procedural hearings have already happened.
The probe is believed to have the largest number of core participants to date, with more than 500 survivors, bereaved families and friends, and members of the North Kensington community participating.
The main hearing room has a capacity for 500 people and bereaved, survivors and residents will be reserved seats at the front each day.
GRENFELL TOWER CLADDING 'NEVER PASSED FIRE SAFETY TEST'
The boss of the company behind the refurbishment of Grenfell Tower said the cladding wasn't tested by his firm.
He said this was because they thought it complied with regulations.
Robert Bond, chief executive of Rydon, was spoken to by BBC Panorama on the first day of the public inquiry.
His construction company worked on the £8.6million project – and installed new cladding and windows.
When it was suggested it was his job to make Grenfell Tower safe, he said: "We did because we put the cladding that was specified up by Kensington and Chelsea council.
"It was approved by building control, it was approved by the local authority, it was approved by the architect."
He denied the firm was required to do any testing on the cladding, saying: "No, we didn't do any testing because we are not required, it was deemed to comply.
"We would work to the regulatory framework."He expressed sympathy for the victims but said Rydon took no responsibility for the fire.
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