The victims of the Grenfell Tower fire have been remembered with a moving ceremony on the second anniversary of the tragedy.
Friday marked 24 months since a small kitchen fire in a flat on an estate in Kensington, west London, turned into the most deadly domestic blaze since the Second World War, rendering scores of families homeless and triggering both a public inquiry and a criminal investigation.
Bereaved families, survivors and campaigners made up the hundreds of people who gathered for a memorial service at the nearby St Helen’s Church, across the Westway from the 24-storey block, which set the tone for a day of remembrance.
It came as some Grenfell survivors renewed appeals for urgent safety recommendations to be introduced now to prevent a future tragedy.
The blaze claimed 72 lives and more than 70 other people were injured, while some 14 families displaced by the fire remain in temporary accommodation, with one in a hotel.
Sabah Yousef Abdullah, whose wife Khadija Khaloufi was among the dead, said the service was about “paying respect”.
Speaking outside the memorial event, the modern languages lecturer said he had been unable to return to work since his wife died.
“She’s always with me,” he said.
“I lost the most important part of myself.”
Two years ago everything changed. We lost 72 loved ones. They are forever in our hearts 💚 pic.twitter.com/gDhC3yvVWv
— Grenfell United (@GrenfellUnited) June 14, 2019
The church walls and pews were decorated with green ribbons, while attendees wore green sashes around their necks – the colour having become a totem of the Grenfell tragedy and the fight of its former residents for justice.
Community volunteers wore T-shirts bearing the message “Forever in our hearts”, a motif which continues to adorn banners draped over the charred tower block.
The order of service said the event was about “remembrance and resilience”.
The names of the 72 men, women and children who died were read, and at the start of the service the congregation sang the hymn Amazing Grace.
A message read out on behalf of Archbishop of York Dr John Sentamu spoke of the “agonising memories” left by the fire, but said that anger over the fire had “turned into action for good”.
He added that there were “uncomfortable truths still to be acknowledged”, but a “common humanity” and been created in the community.
Grenfell survivor and Britain’s Got Talent semi-finalist Leanne Mya sang a solo to the tearful congregation, while local resident Yousra Cherbika read a poem entitled A Panic Attack which was followed by applause.
Earlier there were murmurs of agreement as Dr Graham Tomlin, Bishop of Kensington, described the fire as a “national shame”.
“Grenfell happened because we failed to love our neighbours,” he said.
He praised the community for its “patience, dignity, persistence, a refusal to give up” and urged them to keep fighting for justice.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan and Communities Secretary James Brokenshire were among those present at the service.
Latest figures show some 328 high-rise residential and public buildings are still to complete the replacement of unsafe cladding amid fears over its contribution to the Grenfell Tower tragedy.
The inquiry’s first report – which focuses on what happened on the night the fire broke out – was due to be published in spring but has been delayed until October.
Inquiry chairman Sir Martin Moore-Bick has previously said he does not consider it appropriate to make interim recommendations ahead of the report and any recommendations he makes will be limited to the first phase.
But some survivors have become frustrated that safety recommendations, such as abandoning the “stay-put” policy for buildings more than 10 storeys high, are yet to be implemented.
Now lawyers for some of the affected families are calling again for urgent steps to be taken on “basic fire safety measures” to prevent a similar disaster.
Karim Mussilhy, whose uncle died in the fire, said it is important to stand together and continue campaigning because “we want to make sure the general public understand that the issues of Grenfell are still happening today”.
He told the Press Association: “Our plan is to come together with the rest of the community and be with each other, share some tears with each other, smiles with each other, and put our arms around each other and remember our loved ones and pay our respects.
“We also want to be a presence to everyone else, show them that we are still here and we are still standing strong together, dignified, respectful, we aren’t going to go away, we’re not going to fade away and we’re not going to let others forget our loved ones and for us to be swept under the carpet.”
From early evening on Friday, a multi-faith vigil will be held in the area surrounding the high-rise, followed by the silent walk that has taken place on the 14th of each month for two years.
Yvette Williams, a co-ordinator of campaign group Justice 4 Grenfell, told the Press Association: “For us the anniversary is always focused on the 72. So you kind of think, what have we really done for them over the last two years, how many steps towards justice have been made?”
Staff at Kensington and Chelsea Council will also gather at the town hall to pay their respects.