Grenfell firefighter ‘trying to blame me’ after brother’s death – Syrian refugee

A Syrian refugee has accused a firefighter of trying to shift “blame” on to him after his brother was accidentally left to die in Grenfell Tower.

Omar al-Haj Ali, who arrived in the UK with his brother, Mohammad, in 2014, had been on the 14th floor of the west London block on June 14 last year.

They had lived in flat 112 since September 2016, but on the night of the fire, the brothers and their neighbours sought shelter in flat 113.

When firefighters eventually came to rescue the eight residents, only four escaped, while the four others, including Mohammad, were left behind.

Mohammad jumped to his death from a window, after the other three victims had fallen unconscious.

Firefighter Peter Herrera led the four tenants from the smoke-filled property and previously claimed Mr al-Haj Ali assured him no-one was left in the flat.

But, giving evidence to the Grenfell Tower inquiry on Tuesday, Mr al-Haj Ali dismissed his account and described the hurt it had caused him.

He told a hearing at Holborn Bars: “I didn’t search the flat, I didn’t check if Mohammad left or not, so why should I say that?

“He is my brother, so it’s very hard to hear someone blaming you for the death of your best friend and neighbours.

“He’s my brother, how can I say that about him?

“He’s just trying to blame me for not searching the flat by himself and I’m sure that he didn’t search the flat and if he did, he would see everyone else, I’m sure he didn’t go inside the bedroom or living room.”

Omar Alhaj Ali
Omar Alhaj Ali

CCTV from the lobby of the tower captured the moment Mr al-Haj Ali, his clothes blackened from smoke, realised Mohammad had not followed him down the stairwell.

A still picture from 2.44am showed him pointing back in the direction he came, apparently indicating to firefighters where his brother may be.

He said: “I was telling him maybe he is still in the flat, because he’s not with me.”

The survivor suggested a firefighter who was listening to him had dismissed his concerns, saying to a colleague: “Maybe he’s panicked.”

Mohammad was said to have been “very close” behind his brother as they moved towards the exit of flat 113, but Mr al-Haj Ali is unsure why he did not follow.

“He told me he didn’t see any firefighters,” Mr al-Haj Ali recalled.

In a separate written statement, he described the phonecall they shared once the terrible reality had become apparent.

He wrote: “I said to Mohammad: ‘Why didn’t you come with us?’ and he replied saying no-one took him out of the flat.”

“While I was still on the phone to Mohammad I walked over to a fireman inside the tower and told them that my brother was still in the flat and could not get out,” his account continued.

“I was saying: ‘Please go upstairs, please. There are children upstairs.’ Some firefighters were saying that they were sure that they took everyone out.

“They ignored me and didn’t believe me. I was told by a firefighter that I was in shock and maybe I was in panic.

“I walked from one fireman to another and I spoke to many of them telling them to help my brother. I felt like they were ignoring what I was saying.”

He said Mohammad told him over the phone that he was “scared to leave by himself” because of the thick smoke in the hallway.

In flat 113 with him was Zainab Deen and her young son Jeremiah and Denis Murphy.

Outside, Mr al-Haj Ali was becoming increasingly frantic as he tried to get the attention of firefighters.

“I tried 100 times to speak to any fireman I could,” he wrote.

“None of them listened to me. If they had, my brother could have been saved.”

After repeatedly trying to rally a rescue effort outside the tower, Mr al-Haj Ali became overcome by the effects of smoke inhalations and was rushed to King’s College Hospital.

He learned of his brother’s death when he awoke.

His statement said: “I could not believe what had happened… we had been together in the fire; we were scared together and were planning on leaving together.

“You try to be strong but it was like torture. Having to look at the flat while my brother was inside was torture.”

At the end of his evidence on Tuesday, he added: “The death of everyone and my brother really changed my life completely.”