Families of Grenfell fire victims want tower to be permanent 'horrifying' memorial to lost relatives

Grenfell Tower's exterior (PA Media)
Grenfell Tower's exterior (PA Media)

Bereaved families who lost their children in the Grenfell tower fire have called for the building to remain in place as a permanent shrine.

Speaking at the Grenfell Testimony Week in Westminster, Paulos Tekle, whose five-year-old son Isaac died in the blaze, said: "We need to make sure that the tower in all its horrifying glory stays as it is. It should be seen all over London and beyond."

Speaking to the Standard, Tekle added: "Four years ago I went to Washington DC and went to the Holocaust museum, which is a reminder of terrible things that happened 75 years ago… I know it's hard for people seeing these things, but it's a reminder that it shouldn’t happen again."

Late last year, a commission established to help determine the future of the tower suggested that the building “cannot remain forever in its current form”, and instead should be replaced by a permanent memorial. The final decision over the tower remains with the government.

Tekle feels his family have not been consulted enough over the issue.

Paulos Tekle with his son Isaac (PA Media)
Paulos Tekle with his son Isaac (PA Media)

Grenfell Testimony Week is a four day event that forms part of an agreement signed last year for a public mediation. Representatives from companies associated with the fire, as well as the council and government, came to hear directly from bereaved families as part of a mediation process. The fire on June 14 2017 remains one of the UK’s worst ever disasters.

Grenfell Testimony Week follows the settlement of a damages claim involving around 900 cases, and a total sum of about £150m in compensation.

In his testimony, Tekle explained that the fire brigade had repeatedly advised he and his family to stay in their flat on the night of the fire, both on the phone and in person, even as the whole building was aflame due to cladding..

Isaac Tekle died after being separated from a group when they finally left their flat on the 18th floor. Paulos Tekle said he was in “agony” when thinking about his son’s death.

"I’m torn with grief, not knowing what happened in the last minutes. How did he die, what was he thinking, did he call out for me or his mum? I will never know.

"Nobody came to the inquiry to let me know. No one has been able to give those answers… I have to live with this the rest of my life, not knowing. I want you to try to imagine what this feels like", he said.

Isaac’s mother Genet Shawo also spoke of her grief and anger over following the guidance of the authorities. “By following the advice of those people who you think are there to protect you, I lost my loved one, my eldest son. I paid the price,” she said.

Their words were part of a morning of testimony by a group of Ethiopian and Eritrean bereaved and survivors of the fire. The EthioEritrean Group is the second largest demographic of the 365 people directly affected by the blaze.

In a statement, the group hit out at the slow progress of criminal charges over Grenfell tragedy. “The delay of justice and lack of transparency by the Metropolitan Police, that the bereaved and survivors must witness, acts as a sharp knife to their grieving process,” they said.

Scotland Yard has interviewed several dozen people under caution as part of its investigation into the fire fire. However, it said it will need to process the Grenfell Tower Inquiry report before bringing charges, which is unlikely to happen before the summer.

Hayelom Woldegabir – who lost his 12-year-old son Biruk Haftom and Biruk’s mother Berkti – also have testimony at the event, and spoke of his pain at the length of time it is taking to get justice.

“The saddest thing is Biruk, my son, had to die with his mother, and to witness his mother going before him,” he said. “Your heart is being twisted over and over again, thinking about what you will hear next. Every morning when I see teenagers going to school I think about him."

People representing groups including the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea council, London Fire Brigade, Celotex, Exova, Kingspan, Rydon, and Whirlpool were all in attendance. US firm Arconic, which supplied the cladding on the outside of the tower, declined to send a representative. Organisers put out an empty chair in their place.

On Tuesday, Behailu Kebede, the minicab driver in whose flat the Grenfell Tower fire started, gave testimony. He was cleared of any blame by the inquiry, which found that the fire began because of a fridge malfunction, but said he remains "broken inside".

In words read by an actor, Kebede said he didn’t attend in person because he still feels “a deep pain and a shame that I will carry to my grave”.

He said he can "never forget that it was in my flat, in my kitchen that the fire started … and all those lives were lost", adding that he almost went into witness protection because of his shame.

Also on Tuesday, Marcio Gomes, whose baby son Logan was stillborn after the fire, described the life his son could have had.

Gomes, who escaped the tower with his wife and two daughters, described his family's excitement at the new arrival, and the moments in his life he will now never experience.

"This is what you have taken away from me," he said.