Grenfell Tower inquiry: Man recalls final call with sister and mother

Mariem ElgwahryImage copyright
Family handout via PA

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Mariem Elgwahry and her mother Eslah died after becoming trapped on the top floor of the tower

A mother’s last words to her son were “I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe”, the Grenfell Tower fire inquiry has heard.

Ahmed Elgwahry described a final phone call with sister Mariem, 27, and mother Eslah, 64, who were both trapped on the building’s highest floor.

He said he stood helpless outside the tower and only disconnected the call an hour after they had fallen silent.

Mr Elgwahry said he wanted to hold them one last time, but only fragments of their bodies were recovered.

Speaking on of the sixth day of the Grenfell commemoration hearings he told the inquiry: “On my final call with Mariem – despite her suffering, despite her gradual deterioration, despite her gradual loss of consciousness – she persisted in letting me know that she was still there.

“She started fading away from me rather rapidly, but she kept going all the way until she was no longer audible.

“She started to mumble, started banging the floor, and then finally no longer responsive.”

He said he then heard his mother’s final words: “I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe.”

“That was the last time I heard her voice,” he said.

Mr Elgwahry said his father died more than 20 years ago from an aggressive form of cancer, but on the night of the fire it “felt like my father died again and a large part of our life, important memories, were wiped out, erased in a matter of minutes”.

He received a standing ovation after his tribute to his “brave and selfless” sister and mother who were “inseparable”.

‘I have to live with the guilt’

The inquiry also heard from Paulos Tekle, the father of “beautiful” 5-year-old Isaac Paulos, who said his son might still be alive had he not listened to the advice of firefighters.

Mr Tekle and his family lived on the 18th floor and were told by the fire brigade to stay in their flat on the night of the fire.

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Grenfell Tower Inquiry

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Isaac Paulos, 5, died after he was separated from his family

“Our friends and neighbours were calling me and telling me to get out the fire is spreading too fast up the building,” he said.

Mr Tekle called his friends to warn them of the fire – they all lived.

At 02:00 firefighters reached his family’s flat, but Mr Tekle said they were told again to stay where they were.

It wasn’t until 45 minutes later they were told to leave, which is when Isaac reportedly got lost in the smoke.

“I listened to the authority and that makes me angry. I have to live with the guilt,” Mr Tekle said.

“I want to know why I was physically stopped from leaving the flat at 2am. If I had not listened to the fire brigade my son would have likely be alive today.”

Day-by-day: the inquiry so far

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Grenfell Tower Inquiry

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Gloria Trevisan was a “beautiful girl”, whose kindness and big heart “didn’t go unnoticed for anyone who met her”

The mother of Italian architect Gloria Trevisan, who died alongside her fiance Marco Gottardi, urged families and survivors to use their anger as “the catalyst for finding the truth, because that is what everybody really wants”.

Speaking through an interpreter, Emmanuella Trevisan said she had asked her daughter to come home to Italy for an anniversary on the same day as the fire, but Gloria had decided to travel later.

She said she hoped those “who took the decision to put that cladding on that tower” will “feel it in their conscience, the pain and the grief caused to all of us”.

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Grenfell Tower Inquiry

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Hassan Awadh Hassan paid tribute to his wife Rania Ibrahim and their two daughters

Another relative, Hassan Awadh Hassan, paid a tearful tribute to his wife Rania Ibrahim and daughters Fethia, four, and Hania, three.

Supported by his family and friends, Mr Hassan, who was in Egypt when the fire happened, wore a t-shirt printed with a picture of his wife and daughters and the words “I love you” and “we will always remember you”.

He said the family had moved into the tower in 2015. However, even before they started living there, he said his wife expressed concerns about fire safety.

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Rania Ibrahim and her daughters Fethia, four, and Hania, three, died in the fire

Mr Hassan said: “When I spoke to my friend I asked him my wife’s question: ‘If there is a fire, what do we have to do?’ and he tells me ‘Hassan, don’t worry, this building is safe – if the flat next to you is on fire then nothing happens to your flat’.

“I come back to my wife and I tell her: ‘Listen love, I’m going to leave the flat very nice for you and our two kids, don’t worry’. And she said: ‘You know anywhere you go, anywhere that you stay, I’m going to be with you’.

“I think that’s the only mistake I [made] – bringing them to Grenfell Tower.”

At the inquiry

By Jennifer Scott, BBC News

If you think about the first thing you would save in a fire, most of us would reach for the photo albums.

The precious memories encapsulated in those pages mean the world to those who took them.

But we all hope to never have to make that call.

Hassan Adwah Hassan shared those moments today to show the Grenfell Inquiry what he had lost – his wife, Rania Ibrahim, and his two daughters, Fethia and Hania.

People watched the emotional slideshow with pictures of his wedding day, the birth of his babies and the celebrations as they grew older.

They smiled as the two little girls demanded papa cut the birthday cake, played in the bath or showed off their art from nursery.

And they cried as they saw him embracing his girls on holidays, picnicking in the park and spending time with the family and friends they loved, knowing they could never be repeated.

They are all scenarios we cherish with our own loved ones, and Hassan’s life after Grenfell is one we cannot begin to imagine.

This week is half-term and some of the survivors of the tragedy have brought their children with them.

After such a moving tribute, they were sure to have been holding their families that little bit closer.

Listen: Grenfell Tower inquiry podcast with Eddie Mair

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