Silent tribute Family and survivors lay roses at tower
More than 100 people – either survivors of the fire or close relatives of the victims – laid white roses at the foot of Grenfell Tower yesterday in an intensely emotional ceremony to mark the first anniversary of the tragedy.
The ceremony was organised by the survivors’ group Grenfell United as an intimate gathering for those most affected by the blaze that killed 72 people. The anniversary has been dreaded by many people, who remain deep in grief and tormented by the fire and its aftermath. But they came in large numbers clutching roses and wearing green scarves or green items of clothing, some in T-shirts bearing photos of family members they lost.
Among the mourners were the surviving members of the Choucair family, six of whom died in the blaze; and the Wahabi family, who also lost six loved ones.
The first person to lay a rose was Nicholas Burton, whose wife Maria Del Pilar Burton died in January, the last victim of the fire. Others included Karim Mussilhy, who lost his uncle Hesham Rahman.
“Last night was the toughest, when it really started to hit home,” Mussilhy said. “We had a restless night. I don’t have an emotion I can describe, I am just being right now. I know it sounds wrong, but I want this to just go quickly.”
Throughout the 90-minute ceremony, the crowd faced the burntout tower that was once their home, but is wrapped in plastic topped with a green heart – the symbol of Grenfell’s solidarity.
Hassan Hassan, whose wife Rania Ibrahim, 31, and her daughters Fethia Hassan, four, and Hania Hassan, three, were found in their flat on the 23rd floor, unveiled a mosaic that the survivors plan to extend year after year. Also supporting the bereaved was Stormzy, the rapper who has backed the survivors’ campaign for better representation in the public inquiry, and Adele, the singer who supported victims in the days after the fire.
A poem was read out that compared the survivors to “diamonds in the rough”, gems that even stress cannot crush. In one of the most haunting moments, Mohamad Ayub Asif recited verses from the Qur’an, that vibrated in the air around the tower. The Soul Sanctuary gospel choir sang Something Inside So Strong and Bridge Over Troubled Water.
As the names of the dead were read out before a two-minute silence, the strength shown by so many survivors began, understandably, to crack. The tears and sobs emanated from across the assembled crowd, and nurses and ambulance workers moved discreetly among them to offer assistance.
Then came the quiet. The only sound was the wind rustling in the trees and the quiet hum of traffic. It hardly seemed long enough to reflect on the loss.
There was an awkward moment early on when some of the dignitaries gathered in a seated enclosure while the survivors stood. They included Stuart Cundy, the commander of the Metropolitan police investigation; Barry Quirk, the chief executive of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea; and the Duke and Duchess of Kent.
“You need to turn the tables on these people,” said one frustrated survivor. “Why don’t they stand up? It’s not their day.”