Man whose family died in Camberwell tower block fire says he 'lost everything' in the blaze

Rafael Cervi said 'Everything that I built, everything that I dreamed of, was over in three hours'

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The Independent Online

The husband of a woman who lost her life, along with her two children, in a fire that engulfed a tower block has told an inquest that he had ‘lost everything.’

Rafael Cervi, whose family died in Lakanal House in Camberwell, south London in July 2009, said: “Everything that I built, everything that I dreamed of, was over in three hours.”

Mr Cervi had watched the fire with his father-in-law Fernando Francisquini, and initially reassured his wife Dayana that the flames did not look as if they were spreading to their flat. However, as things got worse he told a fireman that Dayana had said his son Felipe “was not OK”, and that he thought he was dying.

He told the jury: “I was expecting my daughter to be alive, at least one of them. But I couldn’t find them.”

Sophie Khan, the lawyer representing the family of  26-year-old Miss Francisquini and her children – six-year-old Thais and Filipe, aged three – told the inquest at Lambeth Town Hall: “There has been a long delay in getting to this point and the relatives are hoping evidence will at last come to light that gets to the truth. The relatives want to know why their loved ones died.

“The family has wanted answers to these questions for a long time. Hopefully the family will now get the answers they want.”

Helen Udoaka, 34, and her three-week-old daughter, Michelle, were the other two people killed. Mr Maxwell-Scott said Ms Udoaka had contacted emergency services to say her flat was filled with smoke.

“She said she and her baby were trapped and there was ‘so much smoke’,” counsel James Maxwell-Scott said. “The operator advised her to use a towel or blanket to stop the smoke coming in. She replied ‘everywhere is choked with smoke’.”

Jurors were shown photographs and a short video detailing how the lethal fire spread.

The film clip showed thick smoke pouring from the top of the building, and how the internal corridor was filled with smoke by that point.

Mrs Udoaka’s husband, Mbet, told the hearing that his wife was on maternity leave with Michelle when they died. “My life will never be the same again, I can never get over these deaths, over the death of my beautiful Helen and my lovely Michelle,” he told the inquest. “I’m really hoping that one day I will get to see them again.”

Mr Maxwell-Scott read part of a statement made by Mr Udoaka after the fire.Recalling the final conversation he had with his wife he said: “The last words she said to me were that the smoke was too much. She couldn’t bear it any more, Michelle our daughter was going to heaven.

On Monday, the inquest heard how 31-year-old designer, Catherine Hickman, the sixth person killed, had been on the phone to a 999 emergency operator for almost an hour, before losing consciousness.

The vicious blaze began when a television caught fire after being left plugged in on the ninth floor.

At the time, several residents described the complicated layout of the tower block as “a maze” which made the evacuation difficult.

A statement by Miss Hickman’s father Pip on behalf of her family, said her life was “cruelly cut short when it was a life meant for living”.

The inquest continues.