Grenfell firefighter comforted trapped woman with toddler by saying she would be saved when he knew she would not, inquiry hears

Zainab Deen watched her child succumb to the smoke before she begged to die herself

Harriet Agerholm
Thursday 02 August 2018 19:11
Their final moments were recalled by firefighter Christopher Batcheldor
Their final moments were recalled by firefighter Christopher Batcheldor

A firefighter has described telling a woman trapped inside Grenfell Tower as it burned that she would be saved, despite knowing she would not.

Zainab Deen, 32, watched her two-year-old son Jeremiah succumb to the smoke before she begged to die herself.

The remains of the mother and child were discovered on the 14th floor after the June 2017 blaze.

Her family said: ‘It is with great sadness that we can confirm we have been notified by the police that our daughter Zainab Deen died in the tragic Grenfell Tower fire’

Their final moments were recalled by firefighter Christopher Batchelor, who described hearing “ear-splitting” screams confirming “that was it”.

Mr Batcheldor, a crew manager at Fulham fire station, reassured the mother, who told him to call her Zenay, that they would be rescued after being handed a phone by her brother, Francis.

He said he heard the boy crying at the beginning of the call and said he was “gagging” to hear the door kicked in by firefighters.

After about half an hour, the toddler stopped coughing and crying.

In a written statement to the inquiry, he said: “Zenay was crying: ‘My boy’s dead.’ She said: ‘I want to be with my son.’

“I said: ‘Don’t talk like that. We are coming for you. Don’t give up.’

“I then passed the phone back to Francis and said: ‘Tell her you love her and that you are waiting for her. Tell her to keep fighting.’”

During the phone call, which lasted more than an hour, Mr Batcheldor said he was told firefighters were unable to get above the 12th floor.

He said: “I knew I couldn’t tell her this. I just couldn’t tell her that so I basically lied to her and continued to tell her that we were coming for her.

“It got to a point where she wasn’t talking much. I could hear a bit of coughing and spluttering. I could hear that she was still there but she wasn’t responding.

“I kept on chatting to her. For Francis, I had to keep up the pretence that she was OK.

‘You spent a moment in our arms, but you will last a lifetime in our hearts,’ family say

“When she stopped responding I could hear a little whimpering, but I kept talking to her in case she could hear my voice.”

After five to 10 minutes of silence, he said he heard “ear-splitting” screams for about 60 seconds as the fire “got to her”.

He knew then that Ms Deen had died, but could not bring himself to tell her brother the news.

“I told him that we had got disconnected and perhaps her battery had gone,” he said.

“He asked me if she was out. I told him we [the fire brigade] were right there, trying to get to her.”

He continued: “Francis hugged me and thanked me.

“He said that Zenay would be really grateful.

“I knew that I had just lied to him.”

Some 72 people died as a result of the fire on 14 June last year.

The inquiry, at Holborn Bars, central London, is hearing a last day of firefighter evidence before it pauses for a month.

During commemorative hearings at the beginning of the probe, which opened in May, Ms Deen’s father said his grandson loved playing football and having adventures.

“We cannot dwell on the sadness or keep asking the question why this happened to our family,” he said a statement read by Michael Mansfield QC.

“Neither will we find a reason why such a handsome and cheerful boy was taken from us at the age of two.

“Instead, we will focus on how happy he made us when he was in our lives.

“Most of all, we are happy that you are with your mother Zainab, who loved, treasured and adored you. She will keep you safe now, as she protected you in life.”

The blackened husk of Grenfell Tower, where police have been carrying out forensic examinations since 14 June, was released as a crime scene on Thursday.

The Metropolitan Police is handing responsibility for the charred block to the government, which will consult the community about creating a memorial at the site of the tragedy.

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