Firefighters ‘refused to believe Grenfell victim was still trapped inside’

A Syrian refugee whose brother was accidentally left to die in Grenfell Tower has described how firefighters refused to believe he was still trapped.

Omar Alhaj 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 four others, including Mohammad, were left behind.

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

In a written statement to the Grenfell Tower inquiry, Omar Alhaj Ali spoke of his panic as he called Mohammad and realised he was still inside.

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.

Grenfell Tower
Grenfell Tower

"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.

"One of the firemen did listen and wrote 113 on his hand, Omar Alhaj Ali, but none of them then went inside."

He recalled Mohammad telling 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.

Omar was outside 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.

"I even passed one of the firemen the telephone to speak to my brother himself but he didn't take the phone. He didn't want to speak to him.

"I was upset and angry. The firemen then moved me back next to the children's playground.

Grenfell Tower
Grenfell Tower

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

The fire had now begun to creep towards flat 113, prompting Omar to make several attempts to get back into the tower, without success.

He recalled: "I felt like I had lost my mind. I was panicking. I was emotional and I was saying random things. I was overwhelmed with worry. I lost my mind."

At this stage, the effects of smoke inhalation began to overcome him and he was rushed to King's College Hospital.

Omar learned of his brother's death when he awoke.

His statement said: "My brother Hashem was the last person to speak to Mohammad. Hashem told me that Mohammad had watched the others in the flat (Dennis, Zainab and her son) all stop breathing and he didn't know what to do.

"This must have been when Mohammad decided to jump from the flat ... I felt like nothing was real.

"I could not believe what had happened. Losing someone suddenly is easier than losing someone in the way that I lost my brother.

"We had been together in the fire; we were scared together and were planning on leaving together. This makes me even sadder. It all happened so slowly.

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

Omar's two witness statements expressed frustration at the actions of the fire brigade that night – and hotly contested the account of his rescuer, Peter Herrera.

Mr Herrera previously told the inquiry that he had been informed by Omar that there were no more residents in flat 113, meaning he did not search for more people.

Omar wrote: "I am angry that it happened. But I know nothing will change.

"We had never experienced this before. When the firefighters came upstairs, we could have left much earlier.

"Why did they leave us for so long? I think when they took me outside; they closed the front door behind me. They didn't go inside to check the other people inside the flat."

He said Mr Herrera's account was "false", adding: "Mr Herrera made a terrible mistake not checking the flat.

"I understand that it must make him feel very bad for what happened.

"But it is very wrong for him to put words into my mouth that I did not say and which put the blame on me for the death of my own brother and the other people in the flat who were my friends.

"What he has said in his statement has caused a lot of stress and upset to me and to Mohammad's family and I'm sure the other family's of those who died."