The family of the youngest victim of the Grenfell Tower fire have set a heartbreaking tone for the coming weeks of the public inquiry, describing to a packed room on Monday what being truly “broken” feels like.
Struggling to hold back tears, Marcio Gomes told of holding his dead son Logan in his arms hours after escaping the west London inferno. Logan was stillborn at seven months after his family escaped from the 21st floor of the tower.
The Gomes family is just one of dozens who will be contributing to a fortnight of commemorations to mark the start the official inquiry into the blaze. The lead counsel for the inquiry, Richard Millett QC, said the testimonies would help “help us to never lose sight of who our work is for and why we are doing it”.
As the first family to pay tribute, Gomes described how Logan’s nursery had been decorated ahead of his arrival, along with the words: “Twinkle, twinkle, little star, do you know how loved you are? It was our way of showing how much we loved our son Logan.”
The harrowing contributions, some of which came accompanied by photos projected on to screens, were heard at the Millennium Gloucester hotel in Kensington by an audience that included Elizabeth Campbell, the leader of Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, which owns Grenfell Tower, and Commander Stuart Cundy of the Metropolitan police, who is overseeing the criminal investigation into the fire.
As he spoke, Gomes was overcome with emotion, with many people in the inquiry audience also breaking down in tears. He described how the family had escaped the fire around 4am and just hours later, “we found out that we had lost our son, Logan, in the hospital”.
The told of the anguish he felt holding his dead son in his arms. “I just hoped he would open his eyes and make a sound but that never happened”. He said: “You don’t know what you are made of until you are broken”.
As an ultrasound image of Logan was shown on the screen to the inquiry, as his father said: “This was our little star, Logan Gomes.” Gomes said his other children are “physically OK, and we [are] trying to move on”.
The family of Denis Murphy also paid tribute, and described that a “handful of coins” were the only possessions they had to remember the 56-year-old father.
His sister, Anne-Marie Murphy, said the coins were “so poignant to us, as he would give you his last pennies to you if you ever needed them”.
She described the night of the 14 June: “In the early hours ... at approximately 1.30am, my brother, Tim, was to receive the last phone call he would ever have from Denis.”
She added: “Tim never imagined this would be the last time he would get to speak to Denis.” She said there is “a gaping hole in our lives which can never be filled and it hurts, it really hurts – we can’t imagine a day when it won’t hurt any less”.
We as a family feel strongly that there is no reason in the world why anyone should have death forced upon them in such a horrific way. The day Denis died, a part of all of us died too.”
For those attending the inquiry, counselling and NHS support will be available throughout, along with quiet areas and a prayer room.
The Inquiry chairman, Sir Martin Moore-Bick, reflected at the start of the proceedings on Monday that it was necessary to properly accommodate for the grieving as “there will be much sorrow” while tributes are delivered.
“But that sorrow will, I hope, be tempered with the memories of past happiness, of times spent together, and of former joys. And above all by thanksgiving for those who by their lives enriched the lives of those with whom they lived and among whom they moved,” he said.
Sir Martin said the tributes were an “integral part of evidence”, adding: “They will remind us of our fundamental purpose and the reason why it is so important that the truth be laid bare. Only by achieving that goal can we ensure justice for the living and a lasting tribute to the dead.”
The retired judge said the tragedy was the “single greatest tragedy to befall this city since the end of the Second World War” and added that the sight of the tower engulfed in flames is “indelibly printed on the memories of those who experienced an event of unimaginable horror”.
There was a warning at the outset that some of the portraits would contain upsetting material – including the ultrasound picture of stillborn baby Logan Gomes.
Warnings will be given over course of the commemorations before presentations with potentially upsetting moments, including those that would play the voices of the dead or would have pictures of the tower, especially ones which show the tower in flames.
Earlier on Monday Richard Millett QC made it clear that the hearing should not become a “lawyers argument or a scientific experiment”.
“Grenfell was a home,” he said. “It was a human space for human lives, each unique – that is what a home is. For many who lived there, Grenfell wasn’t a home but a place of refuge.”
Some of its residents had come to London fleeing dangerous countries or simply sought out the city for its vibrancy, he added. It was a community which “often stood together as a single voice demanding justice and dignity”.
“And many of them died together,” he added, movingly.
The commemorations will continue for nine days.