As It Happens

Man who lost 6 family members in Grenfell Tower fire says report doesn't go far enough

Nabil Choucair doesn't want anyone else to go through what he's gone through. His mother, his sister, his brother-in-law and his three young nieces all died in the blaze at Grenfell Tower.

Nabil Choucair says his life has been 'beyond a nightmare' since the devastating June 2017 blaze

Nabil Choucair lost six family members in the Grenfell Tower fire. (Henry Nicholls/Reuters)

Transcript

Nabil Choucair doesn't want anyone else to go through what he's gone through.

The London man lost six family members when the Grenfell Tower highrise apartment building went up in flames on June 14, 2017. His mother, his sister, his brother-in-law and his three young nieces all died in the blaze.

"My life has changed. It never will be the same," Choucair told As It Happens host Carol Off. 

"Yet, we still have to keep fighting so that people don't go through what we have to go through ... because you wouldn't want to be in our place where we are now. It's beyond a nightmare."

The report from the first phase of a public inquiry into the deadly fire was released on Wednesday.

In it, inquiry chair Martin Moore-Bick criticizes the response from the London Fire Brigade, while ultimately pinning the blame on the combustible materials used in the refurbishment of the 23-storey social housing block.

Firefighters unprepared: report 

In his report, Moore-Bick, a retired High Court judge, praises the heroism of firefighters who risked their lives in the line of duty.

But he also writes that fewer people would have died had the London Fire Brigade been better trained and prepared for a fire of that scale. 

Choucair agrees. He believes his family would still be alive today had firefighters instructed people to evacuate the building, rather than stay in their flats.

For nearly two hours, residents were told to stay put and await rescue as the flames rapidly spread. 

Survivors and family members of people involved in the Grenfell fire,pose for a photograph following a press conference Wednesday in London. From left to right: Choucair, El Alami Hamdan, Flora Neda, Hamid Al Jafari, Nazanin Aghlani, Shemsu Kedir, Paulos Tekle and Shah Aghlani. (Peter Summers/Getty Images)

Choucair's family died trapped on the 22nd floor. During the inquiry, he heard their frantic final phone calls to emergency services. 

"It was so, so bad and they tried to get out. It was virtually impossible for them," Choucair said, choking back tears. "My mother was disabled, and my sister had three kids."

They were among the 71 people who died in the fire — 70 adults and children who were unable to escape the tower, and one baby who was delivered stillborn after his eight-month-pregnant mother was evacuated through toxic fumes. 

A woman who escaped from the tower died seven months later, but her death "was not directly caused by the fire," the report found.

The head of the brigade, Dany Cotton, called for far-reaching reforms to building and fire safety regulations at the national level.

"It was an unprecedented residential building fire, precipitated by significant failings of the building's fire safety measures which created impossible conditions that residents and the emergency services must never be placed in again," Cotton said in a statement.

'No more than a typical kitchen fire'

Those "impossible conditions" were also scrutinized in the report. 

"In its origin, the fire at Grenfell Tower was no more than a typical kitchen fire," Moore-Bick wrote.

The fire began in a fourth-floor apartment because of an electrical fault in a refrigerator, then spread to the outside of the building and raced up its facade, which had been fitted with a type of aluminum composite material cladding during a refurbishment completed in 2016.

Within 17 minutes of the first call to emergency services by a tenant, the fire had reached the 22nd floor, and six minutes after that it had reached the roof. From there, it engulfed the whole tower, reducing it to a charred ruin by morning.

‘Systemic failures’ during Grenfell Tower fire

3 years ago
Duration 1:47
A public inquiry into the Grenfell Tower fire found “systemic failures” by fire crews who instructed residents of the apartment building to stay put. Seventy-two people died in the fire two years ago.

That same cladding still exists in 328 British buildings, according to the U.K. government's own figures, despite a £200-million government initiative to replace it. Of those, work has begun on 117.

Choucair calls the progress "disgraceful."

"This is something we're always fighting. We're fighting and we visited the prime minister several times to talk about this," Choucair said.

As bereaved families watched from the public gallery in Parliament, Prime Minister Boris Johnson vowed to speed up efforts to get the dangerous cladding removed.

"Nearly all private highrise residential buildings where such cladding remains are now in line to have remedial work scheduled," he said.

"Where that is not case, the government will work with local authorities to take enforcement action, if landlords refuse to deal with the problems themselves."

'They haven't looked at everything'

While Choucair says he's happy with some aspects of the report, he says there's still plenty the inquiry has failed to address. 

"They should have looked at social class and culture. They should have looked at austerity. They should have also looked at housing," he said.

Grenfell Tower is owned by one of London's richest local authorities, Kensington, which has been accused of neglecting the building because of indifference toward its low-income, immigrant residents.

The second phase of the inquiry will examine the issue of why warnings by the local community about safety issues at Grenfell Tower were ignored.

But Choucair doesn't expect that report to answer many of his lingering questions, which were never included in the inquiry's mandate. 

"It's just going to be the basic what people set out to do, what the government sets out to do, as if it was a normal inquiry, the very minimum tick box — as if they've done something."


Written by Sheena Goodyear with files from Reuters. Interview with Nabil Choucair produced by Alison Masemann.

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