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Camberwell Tower Block Fire Inquest: Father Rafael Cervi Tells Of Pain After Whole Family Dies

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A man who lost his entire family in a tower block fire told an inquest that everything he ever "built and dreamed of was over in three hours".

Rafael Cervi's wife Dayana Francisquini, 26, his step-daughter Thais, six, and his son Felipe, three, all died in the blaze at Lakanal House, Camberwell, south-east London in July 2009.

He told jurors at the hearing at Lambeth Town Hall: "I lost my entire family, my wife and a couple of kids that I had.

"Everything that I built, everything that I dreamed of was over in three hours."

thais felipe

Dayana Francisquini, 26, his step-daughter Thais, six, and his son Felipe

It also emerged that another victim of the fire, designer Catherine Hickman, had asked why there were no diagrams to show where fire exits were in the block.

Mr Cervi told the inquest that he met his wife when her daughter Thais was three months old, at a Brazilian club.

He said a week later: "I met the little one, her name was Thais, and after that I couldn't leave both of them.

"When I saw her I was sure that this was my dream daughter."

The couple's son Felipe was "a little bit naughty, doing crazy things", the jury was told.

Mr Cervi said his wife "loved to dance" and was "never tired" despite looking after two children.

rafael cervi

The Camberwell tower block

He was working near London Bridge on the day of the fire, and only knew about the blaze when his wife rang him just before 4.30pm.

Mr Cervi called her ten times, and alerted her father who was closer to Camberwell at the time.

He also tried to reassure his wife over the phone and dialled 999, but said he felt "useless" that he could not help more.

camberwell tower fire

One resident tried to put together a makeshift rope to lower himself off a balcony to escape the fire

Mr Cervi watched the fire with his father-in-law Fernando Francisquini and initially reassured Dayana that the flames did not look as if they were spreading to their flat.

However as things got worse he told a fireman that Dayana said Felipe "was not OK", and that he thought his son was dying.

Later, he struggled to find out what had happened to his family.

He told the jury: "I was expecting my daughter to be alive, at least one of them. But I couldn't find them."

Designer Catherine Hickman, 31, also died in the blaze, along with Helen Udoaka, 34, and her three-week-old daughter Michelle.

chaterine hickman

Catherine Hickman also died in the fire

Mrs Udoaka's husband Mbet told the hearing that he met his wife in Nigeria in 2003, and they got married four years later.

He told the inquest: "I have been very traumatised by the loss of both Helen and Michelle. We planned to have two kids as soon as possible. We might have had at least two of them by now.

Helen had a degree in business management but was on maternity leave with 20-day-old Michelle at the time of their deaths.

Mr Udoaka was studying for an MBA and worked part-time as a security guard, and was out at work when the fire started.

"My life will never be the same again, I can never get over these deaths, over the death of my beautiful Helen and my lovely Michelle. I'm really hoping that one day I will get to see them again.

"The last words she said to me were that the smoke was too much, she couldn't bear it any more, Michelle our daughter was going to heaven.

"She said if I didn't see her again she would be going to heaven."

Mr Udoaka went to hospital in an ambulance with his daughter. He found out the next day that his wife had died, the inquest was told.

Miss Hickman's boyfriend of six years Mark Bailey also gave evidence today, saying that she had asked him where the fire exits from the flat were, and why there were no diagrams to show them where to go.

Two weeks before the blaze, he had asked a fireman handing out cigarette butt pouches in a park whether they could have a home visit to get advice, but the man said it was "nothing to do with him", the inquest heard.

Mr Bailey was away in New York at the time of the fire, and flew back to be with Miss Hickman's family in the New Forest.
They were told three or four days after the blaze that she had died.

He told the inquest: "During that time I was feeling indescribable. I was overwhelmed by grief and I would wake up every night screaming and crying.

"I would wake up and think that Catherine was next to me, and then realise what had happened."

A statement by Miss Hickman's father Pip on behalf of her family was read to the hearing by coroner Frances Kirkham.

Mr Hickman explained that the designer had seen her work stocked by shops in New York, was commissioned by the singer Bjork and worked for French Connection as well as boutiques in London.

He said: "Catherine lived a London life but was a country girl at heart. A life cruelly cut short when it was a life meant for living.

All those who knew Catherine are heartbroken."

The inquest was adjourned until tomorrow.