Emotional testimonies from a bereaved father and disabled survivor of the Grenfell fire have been made in front of organisations held by many of those affected as being responsible for the disaster.
The father of a baby stillborn following the blaze described the life his son could have had, telling the firms: “This is what you have taken away from me.”
Grenfell Testimony Week began in London on Tuesday, after an agreement reached last year for a global settlement of compensation claims made by people affected by the 2017 fire.
A legal hearing in May 2023 was told there had been a settlement of about 900 cases and a global sum of about £150 million compensation agreed.
Organisers of the four-day event said it is being held to give the bereaved, survivors and residents an opportunity to “speak directly to representatives from the defendant organisations that many of them hold responsible for the fire”.
Opening the testimonies, Marcio Gomes spoke of the blissful family life he and his loved ones have been robbed of – as he told “a story” about his son Logan Gomes.
At times tearful and pausing to compose himself, he described his family’s excitement at the arrival of their “prince”, the “magical and mesmerising” cry of a newborn and the milestone first steps that had been missed.
His son would by now have celebrated his sixth birthday, he added.
Looking directly at representatives from companies associated with the tower, as well as the council and Government, who sat silently to his right, he said: “This is what Logan’s life would’ve been.
“This is what our lives would’ve been like.”
He added: “This is what you have taken away from me.”
Mr Gomes and his wife Andreia Perestrelo were expecting their third child on August 21 2017, but Logan was stillborn in hospital following the blaze.
The couple lived with their two daughters in the North Kensington tower for 10 years, and all four narrowly escaped the blaze.
Representatives from Celotex, Exova, London Fire Brigade, Kingspan, the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC), Rydon, and Whirlpool Corporation all accepted invitations to be present at testimony week, alongside representatives from the Home Office and Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government.
Arconic, which supplied the cladding on the outside of the tower, said it has made a “significant financial contribution to fund the organisation” of testimony week but regrets that no representatives could attend.
Organisers stated that testimony week is “completely independent of, and has no impact upon, the ongoing Grenfell Tower Inquiry”.
Inquiry chair Sir Martin Moore-Bick was among those gathered at Church House in Westminster to listen to the testimonies, sitting alongside lead counsel to the inquiry, Richard Millett KC.
A film of excerpts from the inquiry’s hearings was played at Tuesday’s event, entitled “I don’t recall”.
During the audio various people from RBKC, Rydon, Kingspan, Celotex, Arconic and former Government minister Lord Eric Pickles were heard saying they could not recall when asked questions during the inquiry.
A clip of Lord Pickles, who was secretary of state at the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) between 2010 and 2015, noting how much of his time the inquiry was taking up was also included.
Other testimonies included from Emma O’Connor, who lived on the 20th floor of the tower and managed to escape with her partner on the night of the fire.
Ms O’Connor, who is disabled, said: “I still struggle every day with survivor’s guilt.”
An actor read a statement by Behailu Kebede, in whose flat the fire began.
Mr Kebede has been cleared of any blame by the inquiry into the disaster, but in his statement he told of the “deep shame” that remains with him and the pain he feels about what happened.
He spoke of the “special place” Grenfell had been for him before the fire, but described how he felt he had to “hide away” after what happened because of media attention, and how the ongoing sense of trauma kept him from attending testimony week.
He said those responsible had failed to admit any fault in the immediate aftermath, leading to “division and confusion” among victims about where blame lay.
This could have been avoided, he said, had the “wealthy” and “powerful” organisations been open about their roles in what had happened.
Before the testimonies the names of all those who died in the fire were read aloud, followed by a 72-second silence – one for each life lost.
A statement from the Grenfell Next of Kin group, which said it represents some of those involved in the settlement, said some had “actively chosen not to attend testimony week or participate in the proceedings” and that there is “anger and a deep sense of betrayal in the way this event has come about”.
It said: “It has caused tremendous hurt and harm for those who should be at the forefront of this tragedy. The immediate family members, the mothers, the fathers, sons, daughters, brothers, sisters and the husbands and wives.”