Grenfell Tower fire: Father found out his son had died from news report

'I must live with the image of my little boy alone on the stairs of horror all night,' says Paulos Tekle

Harriet Agerholm
Tuesday 30 October 2018 16:43
'Our little boy was trampled on' Grenfell survivor who lost five-year-old son gives emotional speech closing testimony

A father who was separated from his son as they fled their 18th-floor flat in Grenfell Tower found out from a news report that the five-year-old had died, a probe into the blaze has heard.

Paulos Tekle said it took 11 days for officials to tell him they had identified the remains of his child, Isaac, by which time the BBC had already reported his death.

Recalling the events of the night of the fire, Mr Tekle said firefighters initially told his family to stay inside their flat and wait to be rescued.

He and his partner, Genet Shawo, grew increasingly anxious about the safety of their two young sons and considered jumping from the window as smoke filled the rooms.

5-year-old Isaac Shawo

The family were eventually instructed to evacuate, but Isaac became separated from them in the smoke-filled stairwell.

Police refused to allow Mr Tekle back into the tower to look for Isaac, he told the Grenfell Tower Inquiry. The family spent the days following the blaze looking for the five-year-old.

“We were still hoping, desperately hoping, that we would find Isaac, but a couple of days later it was confirmed on the BBC that he was dead,” Mr Tekle told the probe.

“I believe the police had access to the building a few days after the fire and don’t understand how the BBC found out the information before us.”

During his oral testimony on Tuesday, Mr Teckle also criticised the London Fire Brigade for telling the family to wait inside and failing to rescue them.

Recalling the night of the blaze in a written statement, Mr Teckle said: “I made calls to my family to say goodbye to them as I thought we were going to die.”

He sat on the window ledge and thought that he would rather jump than be “burnt alive”, he said.

“I told Isaac: ‘I will hold you and we will jump together.’ I did not want myself and my family to suffer painful deaths,” he said.

“I also thought that if we jumped and fell down on our backs holding our children we could cushion their falls and there was a chance that they would live.

“I was arguing with Genet as she was saying that we should not do this.”

While they waited to be rescued, the family were visited at their front door by at least one firefighter, he said.

The inquiry previously heard evidence from firefighter Gregory Lawson, who said a man in an 18th-floor flat told him he was safe and did not want to talk when he knocked on the door.

Asked about the claim, Mr Tekle raised his voice slightly, saying: “That’s a joke, I’m sorry.

“I did not say this, there is no way in a million years I am going to say [this] because I am desperate to leave.”

'That’s a joke, I'm sorry' Grenfell survivor who lost five-year-old son contradicts firefighters' account

He said he told the firefighter there were children in the flat “many” times.

Mr Tekle said it was “distressing” to read Mr Lawson’s account of the devastating fire, which broke out in the early hours of 14 June 2017.

“It is also very upsetting that he made the choice not to attempt to rescue any of us on the 18th floor,” Mr Tekle said.

“If we had been given proper instructions by the firefighter we would have attempted to leave at that time.

“I don’t understand why he made that decision not to help us – we were very much in a position to walk down the stairs, as we obviously did later on.”

Mr Tekle was told to try to evacuate shortly before 3am and the family prepared to leave by soaking wet towels and covering their faces with them, he said.

Mr Tekle carried his younger son Lucas, then around three years old, while another man who was lodging with their neighbours took Isaac.

“I was panicking going down [the stairs],” Mr Tekle said.

“I slipped and fell over. I was falling down on my front and I thought I was going to hurt Lucas so I turned round to my side and I hit my shoulder.

“I think for a few seconds, maybe minutes, I was unconscious and did not know where I was and then I realised where I was and I needed to move.

“I was not able to stand up and I slid down the stairs

“I was very short of breath but I kept going. I could not see anything. All my focus was to save Lucas.”

Mr Tekle believed Isaac had made it out of the tower ahead of him, so he left the building when he got to the bottom of the stairs.

But outside, the man who had been helping Isaac told him he had become separated from the five-year-old.

“He told me he had lost him on the stairs,” Mr Tekle said.

“I could not take in what he was saying to me.

“I was trying to question him but he kept putting the oxygen mask on his face.

“Genet was very distraught. I saw Genet crawling on the ground and crying and wailing that she had to find our son.”

Mr Tekle later said: “I have been made aware of the contents of the post-mortem report on Isaac, although I have not read it myself because I would find it too distressing to do so.

“I was incredibly shocked and upset to learn that both of Isaac’s ankles had been ‘disarticulated’ and that the left foot was completely detached.”

At the end of his oral evidence, Mr Tekle was asked whether he had anything to add.

Reading from a piece of paper he took from his breast pocket, he said: “I have something which I’m going to read. It’s very difficult but I have to.

“I must live with the image and thought of my little boy left alone on the stairs of horror all night. But our nightmare doesn’t end there.

“Our little boy was trampled. This is very painful to sit here and tell you, but I have to because I need you to please feel and hear why.

“I have been let down by London Fire Brigade, my son would have been alive today if we had been allowed to leave earlier.”

The probe also heard on Tuesday from another 18th-floor resident, Rabia Yahya, who sheltered in the Shawo family’s flat with her three children.

Her husband, Bellal Elguenuni was not in the tower on the night of the fire.

Ms Yahya, who was 21 weeks pregnant when the blaze took hold, decided to try to escape when she saw Mr Tekle threatening to jump out.

After making it out with her three children, Ms Yahya was put in an induced coma for two weeks. Her son, who has asthma, was unconscious for 11 days.

She told the inquiry in a written statement that Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea council (RBKC), offered her, her husband and three children a room on the 22nd floor of the Hilton London Metropole hotel on Edgware Road.

In a written statement to the public inquiry into the fire, she said: “I refused to go.

“There was no alternative room offered to us on a lower floor, so we went to my mother-in-law’s house to stay for a few days, while we tried to get RBKC to sort out proper accommodation for us, which was frustrating.

“It felt that we had to fight to get our most basic needs met, even when we’re in a fragile, vulnerable condition, just out of hospital.”

Ms Yayha continued: “I feel really let down by RBKC.

“It feels like they just don’t care about us – I mean how else could it feel when they tried to stuff us all into one room on the 22nd floor when we came out of hospital? It’s a joke.

“Thankfully, I have family. I’m not sure I would have managed without them.”

The mother-of-four sat behind a blue screen next to her NHS therapist as she gave evidence on Tuesday afternoon.

The Grenfell Tower inquiry is hearing from survivors of the blaze, which killed 72 people.

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