By Isabel Ringrose
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Grenfell inquiry hears harrowing stories of victims’ last moments

Police predicted ‘crime and disorder’ in the days after the Grenfell fire because they believed a majority of those affected came from a ‘Muslim background’
Issue 2812
The Grenfell Tower, now wrapped in plastic, with a banner across the top reading 'always in our hearts'

The memory of the Grenfell fire looms large over west London (Picture: Guy Smallman)

The Grenfell Tower Inquiry is sharing the harrowing last moments of the victims of the west London tower block fire—and the failures that led to their deaths.

The inquiry into the deaths of 72 people on Tuesday heard an account of eight people who died sheltering in two flats on 23rd floor.

Seven of them died from inhalation of fire and toxic fumes, forensic experts explained. The eighth, Mohamed Neda, was from Kabul in Afghanistan and fled in 1998. He fell to his death after staying with four women who were stranded because two of them were disabled.

A voicemail to his brother-in-law said, “I am leaving this world, goodbye.” His son and wife made a successful escape as he stayed with two residents, who had mobility impairments, and their visiting families.  One of these residents, Eslah Elgwahry, told Tory-run Kensington and Chelsea council in 2015 that she had a physical disability—but no measures were put in place.

Rania Ibrahim, a 31-year-old who came to London in 2009 from Egypt, died with her four-year-old and three-year-old daughters Fethia and Hania. They sheltered in their flat with three of their neighbours.

In a video from Facebook, Rania said, “The whole building is burning and we’re on the top floor,” and questioned how they could escape. At 2.42am the fire brigade call operator said, “The safest place for you at the moment is in the flat.” This was just after fire commanders had lifted the “stay put” policy.

The inquiry will hear the last moments of the 72 victims for another two weeks.

Lawyers focussed this week on the role of the London Fire Brigade. And they questioned why the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, the tower’s landlords, put disabled residents on the upper floors of the block with no lifts.

The Home Office was also slammed for rejecting the inquiry’s recent call for landlords to draw up personal evacuation plans for disabled residents.

Before 2.33am residents tried to go down the stairs. But “a male voice was heard to shout a command for residents to go back”. “This may have been a firefighter,” said Danny Friedman QC who is representing some families. No firefighters were able to reach the top floor.

Meanwhile, it has been revealed that a Met police document predicted “crime and disorder” in the days after the blaze. It put this down to the fact that “the majority of those affected are believed to be coming from a Muslim cultural background”.

Grenfell United, which represents bereaved and survivors, said, “The Metropolitan Police were more concerned about us than the actual criminals.”

The note assessed risks of “community tensions” in the week after the fire. It warned of outbreaks of crime if the full death toll was released and could “rise substantially”. The Met has tried to desperately deny “any suggestion that Islamophobia affected its response to the tragedy”.

Grenfell United said, “They treated us like criminals because they focused solely on profiling our community using a racist, discriminative system. When we should have been protected and supported, we were treated as suspects not victims.”

Police were less concerned about far right groups that marched in the area after the fire.

Grenfell United added that officials from the council referred to them as “muzzies” and refused to go down to the tower because “it’s like little Africa down there”. It said, “Working within a system riddled with racism and Islamophobia will never bring about true justice. Maybe this is why so much evidence was destroyed.

“Maybe this is why half a decade later, there are still no charges. Maybe this is why justice for people from our class never gets anywhere.” The inquiry continues.

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