A London firefighter has described how he listened to a mother and her young son die over the phone, after lying to them that they would be rescued from Grenfell Tower.
In written evidence to the public inquiry into the disaster, Chrisopher Batcheldor said: “The screaming went on for about 60 seconds. When it stopped I knew then that was it. I hung up the phone.”
The woman was Zainab Deen and her two-year-old son Jeremiah, one of the youngest victims of the fire, who were trapped on the 14th floor of the west London tower. Batcheldor had tried to reassure the frantic mother, known as “Zenay”, that they would be rescued despite knowing that fire crews were unable to pass the 12th floor.
“She said ‘we are going to die’ and I said ‘no you’re not – we are coming to get you’,” he wrote.
Batcheldor said he was on the phone to 22-year-old Zenay for about an hour and a quarter in total, “gagging to hear the door getting kicked in” by firefighters – but it never happened.
“I could hear the little boy crying from the beginning of the call, then I could hear him coughing too,” he said. Some 30-25 minutes later the noises stopped: “Zenay was crying ‘my boy’s dead’. She said ‘I want to be with my son’.
“I said ‘don’t talk like that. We are coming for you. Don’t give up’.”
At that point Batcheldor handed the phone back to Zenay’s brother Francis – who had initially been on the phone with her – imploring him to tell his sister he loved her and to “keep fighting”.
When he took the phone back, Batcheldor could hear banging noises which he thought was fire crews breaking into her flat. He was then informed they were still stuck on the 12th floor.
“I knew I couldn’t tell her this. I just couldn’t tell her that, so I basically lied to her and continued to tell her that we were coming for her.
“It got to a point where she wasn’t talking much. I could hear a bit of coughing and spluttering. I could hear that she was still there but she wasn’t responding.
“I kept on chatting to her. For (her brother) Francis, I had to keep up the pretence that she was OK.”
When Zeinab stopped responding, Batcheldor continued talking to her, hoping that the whimpering he could hear down the line meant “she could hear my voice”.
There was silence for five to ten minutes, before he heard “ear-splitting screaming”.
“I think that Zenay must have been unconscious and then the fire got to her and brought her round,” Batcheldor said. “The screaming went on for about 60 seconds. When it stopped I knew then that was it. I hung up the phone.”
Batcheldor said he could not tell Francis what he had heard, so instead told him that he had suddenly become disconnected and that perhaps his sister’s phone battery had gone flat.
“He asked me if she was out. I told him we (the fire brigade) were right there, trying to get to her.”
Batcheldor led Francis to the police and gave his phone back. “Francis hugged me and thanked me. He said that Zenay would be really grateful,” he said. “I knew that I had just lied to him.”
Batcheldor then went to the unit collating information from emergency calls from trapped residents and told them Zenay and Jeremiah were dead.
Earlier in the inquiry, Deen’s father, Zainu Deen, paid tribute to his daughter and grandson, and said the two-year-old loved playing football.
“We cannot dwell on the sadness or keep asking the question why this happened to our family,” he said a statement read by Michael Mansfield QC.
“Never will we find a reason why such a handsome and cheerful boy was taken from us at the age of two.
“Instead, we will focus on how happy he made us when he was in our lives.
“Most of all, we are happy that you are with your mother Zainab, who loved, treasured and adored you. She will keep you safe now, as she protected you in life.
“Throughout your short time here on Earth you were so connected with your mother that even death cannot separate you both.”
The Grenfell Tower inquiry is currently hearing evidence from firefighters and commanders which has been extended into September when evidence from the bereaved, survivors and local residents was due to be heard.
That will now be heard in October and expert evidence will be presented the following month.
It is hoped all evidence will be heard by the end of 2018 and that an interim report will be released early in the new year.
The hearings follow several days of tributes to those killed, heard in May. Phase two of the inquiry is set to address the wider issues the tragedy highlighted and may continue into 2020.
Chairman Sir Martin Moore-Bick, who opened the hearing in September 2017, is due to prepare a report for the Prime Minister on his findings and recommendations which she has undertaken to publish in full.