‘People need to go to jail’: Grenfell survivors speak out five years on

Show caption ‘My body couldn’t take it any more and started shutting down’ … Munira Mahmud. Composite: Antonio Olmos/Guardian Design Grenfell Tower fire ‘People need to go to jail’: Grenfell survivors speak out five years on The tower’s former residents will never forget the fear and chaos of 14 June 2017, or the anger and grief that followed. They talk about the night when everything changed – and their long battles to regain some kind of normality Interviews by Sirin Kale Mon 13 Jun 2022 14.00 BST Share on Facebook

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Munira Mahmud, 38

Stay-at-home parent. Lived on the fifth floor

Grenfell was a beautiful place to live. It was like we were one big house. My father-in-law had dementia; he would leave the building and my neighbours would bring him back. They’d call me and say: “Don’t worry, we’ve found him! We’ve given him a cup of tea.” I’d knock on their doors and ask for an onion. Who does that in London? People would tell you to go to Tesco.

My best friend, Rania Ibrahim, moved in a year and a half before the fire. She was from Egypt and I am Ugandan. She was a beautiful human being. I remember the first time she came to my house, she brought me soup and chicken. She went on holiday to Egypt and came back with a suitcase full of gifts for me. I’d never met anyone so generous. Every single Friday, come rain or shine, she’d bake a basbousa cake for the mosque.

The night of the fire, after I got out, I was the last person to speak to her on the phone. The emergency services told her to stay put, because help was coming. Before she died, she uploaded a video on to Facebook, saying a prayer and accepting her death. Faith-wise, Rania was hardcore. I forced myself to listen to the video three months later. Once, and never again.

I thought we’d be in the hotel for a few weeks. That turned into 19 months

The neighbours were so amazing. I left the flat with nothing and by the time we got to the hotel the night after we had baby food, nappies, clothes and blankets. (I have three children, aged 10, six and one.)

I thought we’d be in the hotel for a few weeks. That turned into 19 months. The kids and I were on the ground floor and my husband and father-in-law were on the first floor. We couldn’t do laundry and there were no cooking facilities. But my parents instilled in me to be grateful for what I have. I was grateful to have survived. I was grateful to have a roof over my head. We moved into a house in Kensington in February 2019. We’re trying to make it into a home. For a while, my daughter kept asking to go back to the hotel.

After I had my third child in February 2021, I collapsed. I was in hospital for five days. The doctors couldn’t find anything wrong with me. One asked: ‘Are you going through any stress?’ I said: ‘What if I told you I survived Grenfell?’ I’d been telling everyone I was OK, but my body couldn’t take it any more and started shutting down.

In 2018, I contributed to Together, a cookbook written by those affected by the fire. Cooking has been a big escape for me. Rania and I wanted to take over the kitchen in the mosque. Cooking and feeding people was our dream. Now I have that double responsibility. To do it not only for myself, but for her as well.

‘When I got out and saw the building on fire, I wailed from inside my soul’ … Ed Daffarn. Composite: Karen Robinson/Guardian Design

Ed Daffarn, 59

Social worker. Lived on the 16th floor

I moved into Grenfell in 2001. At first, I was busy studying for my social work degree, then working, but in 2009 my mum became unwell and I became her carer. I had more time on my hands and tried to get my windows cleaned, because they were filthy. It took me about a year of writing letters before I got anywhere. That’s what first alerted me to the fact that there might be a problem with my landlord.

I’ve always described the TMO [tenant management organisation] as a mini mafia. They were very much a non-functioning organisation. They were set up to deliver services to tenants, but that wasn’t what they were interested in. It was very abusive.

We started the Grenfell Action Group in 2010 and began blogging in 2012. I always thought that, in 50 years’ time, when there are no working-class people living in London, people might want to work out why that happened – and our blog could be a way for them to look and see how communities were being treated.

About 1am on the night of the fire, I heard my neighbour’s smoke alarm. When I opened my front door, the corridor was full of black smoke. I got this feeling of fear in the pit of my stomach. My phone rang and a neighbour shouted at me to get the fuck out of the building. There was something so powerful about the way he was speaking to me. I wetted a towel, grabbed my phone, keys and bank cards and went into the hallway.

There’s a perverse celebrity that comes from being in the tower. Now, I live in Notting Hill, where no one knows who I am

I couldn’t see beyond my nose. The emergency door was only a few metres away, but I couldn’t find it. I panicked and started breathing in the smoke. I thought: fuck, this is it. At that moment, a firefighter came through the door and pulled me into the emergency stairwell. He was there because my next-door neighbour’s son had begged him to come up to rescue his dad. The firefighter got me instead. His dad never got out of the building.

I ran for my life down the stairs. I ran by disabled people. I am so ashamed of myself for doing that. But I wasn’t thinking properly. When I got out and saw the building on fire, I wailed from inside my soul.

I spent about a year living in hotels, then another year in serviced apartments. Living in a hotel is really depressing. I had to eat every meal out. Sometimes, you just want to boil an egg. Luckily, there were some other Grenfell families in the same hotel, so we’d eat breakfast together.

Then I got a flat, but it didn’t work out for me. It was too close to the tower. That was my mistake. There’s a perverse celebrity that comes from being in the tower. People in the community, all well meaning, want to talk to you. Now, I live in Notting Hill, where no one knows who I am.

For me, justice would be people being held criminally responsible for what happened. People need to go to jail. The merry-go-round of buck passing that we’ve been witness to during the inquiry needs to stop. And people need to go to bed safe at night in their homes. No more cladding on buildings. People in social housing need to be treated with respect. We’re a million miles away from that happening at the moment.

I always say that Grenfell was a tragedy in three acts: the way we were treated before the fire; what happened the night of the fire; and the abandonment afterwards.


Official response

In a statement, the former Kensington & Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO) said: “The inquiry’s investigations are ongoing and the inquiry has not yet reached any conclusions regarding these issues. It would therefore be inappropriate for KCTMO to respond to any further allegations made and to do so could potentially undermine the inquiry’s investigations.

“The Grenfell Tower fire was a terrible human tragedy, and everyone associated with the KCTMO continues to give their deepest sympathies and condolences to the bereaved, the survivors and their families.”