Survivors and grieving families held up pictures of their loved ones on the steps of St Paul’s Cathedral following a sombre memorial service honouring the 71 people who died in the Grenfell Tower fire.
With their heads bowed and many in tears, the bereaved clutched white roses under a banner bearing the iconic green Grenfell Heart.
The service marks six months since the tragic June blaze, with around 1,500 survivors, bereaved relatives, volunteers and first responders filling the pews of the central London cathedral.
Shah Aghlani, who lost his mother and aunt in the fire, said it was “a day to remember and for the community to come together again”.
“We saw the communities from all faiths together here,” he told HuffPost UK after the memorial. “It was an excellent service - I think it was a good remembrance, very touching.”
Asked what he hoped will happen next, he added: “We hope for change. We don’t deserve this.
“We need to change the rules and regulations so these things don’t happen in the future.”
The memorial began with the Grenfell banner being carried through St Paul’s by Father Gerald Skinner and local imam Fahim Mazhary as the congregation sang ‘Be Still My Beating Heart’.
Opening the service, Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral Dr David Ison said that the nation continued to grieve “at the unspeakable tragedy, loss and hurt of that June day”.
“Let us remember those who died in the tragedy of the Grenfell Tower fire,” he said later in the service.
“Let us remember, and not forget. Let us remember, united in grief and hope and love.”
Throughout the memorial, families gripped photos of victims of the fire. At one point, an emotional recording of survivors describing the night of the blaze echoed around the church.
It was followed by a series of hymns and performances, including a poetry reading by Maria Jafari, who managed to escape the tower, but lost her father in the fire.
School children from around Grenfell Tower then scattered green hearts around the cathedral as St Paul’s choir sang out to the congregation.
The service ended with survivors and those who lost family members in the blaze silently leaving St Paul’s through the Great West Door.
Among the congregation were the Prince of Wales, the Duchess of Cornwall, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry, who met with mourners as they left the church.
Theresa May, Jeremy Corbyn and Sadiq Khan were also in attendance.
Singer Adele, who is supporting a Grenfell Tower Inquiry that gives survivors more confidence in the probe, stopped with actress Carey Mulligan to speak to someone in the congregation before the service started.
Coming out of the service, Clarrie Mendy - who lost her cousin Mary Mendy and Mary’s daughter Khadija Saye in the fire - said: “This service has been good but it’s really invoked a lot of anger.
“It’s brought it all back to people and here we are six months later and still nothing has happened.”
She continued: “We all know what happened, it was just an injustice. It didn’t need to happen. It was incompetence, greed, disregard, and we need to bring this into the first part of the public inquiry.”
“Had they [the residents] been listened to, I wouldn’t be here today.”
“I just pray that this is a wake up call for the nation and a shake up call for the government and let them be seen doing the right thing. Talk is cheap. Action is what we need.”
Karim Mussilh, who was also at the service, added: “We shouldn’t really be here today. We shouldn’t be doing this today.
“Our friends and family should never have died... but it’s great that we are all here together, remembering them.”
Speaking about the service, he continued: “It was very difficult to stay strong.
“And the royal family being there as well... we appreciated that a lot.”
Speaking before the service this morning, Judy Bolton, the director of campaign group Justice4Grenfell, told HuffPost UK: “This morning while getting ready, I actually was in tears. I was in tears because this is the one time where everybody the bereaved, the survivors, the wider community, the firemen and everybody will come together for this day of remembrance.
“I was looking through photos and the order of service from my uncle’s funeral and it just really brought it all home to me. It just made it all very, very real. And that even though this is a remembrance, coming in this morning as we were driving in, we could see the tower and again (I was) crying.
Bolton continued: “This should never have happened. I want to know why my loved ones and why our community have been torn apart like this with no answers.
“And six months on [there are] no homes. Are we really that worthless? So for me I’m actually really proud to be here today and to actually feel part of this community to remember this day, but emotionally it is quite hard, it is.”
But not everyone agrees with the memorial service. Professor Chris Imafidon, who mentored children from Grenfell, said he thinks the service is a “distraction” and that more resources should be focussed on finding people homes and getting families into accommodation.
“This service is the biggest distraction to any bereaved person who has not found the body of their loved ones,” he said.
Imafidon told HuffPost UK while standing outside the steps of St Paul’s: “The victims, the survivors, the bereaved and the widowed don’t need a service.
“They need the service from the local authority. The local authority is supposed to provide services like housing... so how can you now come back and say ‘we need to go to a service to read the Bible’?
“Doesn’t the Bible say love that neighbour? If you have manifested one tenth of what the Bible says, we wouldn’t be here six months later without a roof over the head of innocent people that went to bed on June 13 and woke up in ashes.”