Nadia Jafari, 28, recited the poignant poem, Remember Me, by 13th century Persian Sunni Muslim poet and scholar Rumi. She’d only just managed to escape the raging inferno which consumed Grenfell Tower claiming the lives of 71 people six months ago in North Kensington, west London. But like many attending the memorial service in the bowels of St Paul’s Cathedral, she too had lost a loved one, her 82-year-old father, Ali.
In one of the touching moments in the aftermath of the tragedy, Fatima, her grief-stricken 78-year-old mother had dissolved into tears in the arms of Prince William who was on a visit to comfort survivors and the bereaved at the Westway Sports Centre. She had sought some solace and reassurance from the royal and had begged him for help in tracing her missing husband.
Someone from the 1500 attendees knew someone or knew someone who knew someone who did not make it out of the doomed block on the fateful night of 14 June. Bereaved relatives held pictures of their loved ones as they commemorated Britain’s deadliest fire since World War II, a tragedy that has left a permanent scar on a shell-shocked nation.
The fire which broke out in the middle of the night from a malfunctioning fridge rapidly gutted the 24-storey building, which was home to a multi-ethnic community living in a deprived neighbourhood in one of London’s most affluent boroughs, Kensington and Chelsea.
The disaster highlighted the area’s extreme disparities in living conditions between rich and poor and sparked a debate over why numerous safety concerns voiced by tower residents before the fire had been ignored for so long.
The service reflected the multi-cultural character of the Grenfell community, with Christian and Muslim prayers and music from Middle Eastern, Caribbean and Western traditions.
It also addressed the anger of many survivors over what they perceived as the neglect of their community before and after the fire. A majority of the hundreds of people displaced by the fire are still staying in hotels because suitable permanent homes have not been provided yet.
“Today we ask why warnings were not heeded, why a community was left feeling neglected, uncared for, not listened to,” Graham Tomlin, Bishop of Kensington, told the congregation.
“Today we hold out hope that the public inquiry will get to the truth of all that led up to the fire at Grenfell Tower … and we trust that the truth will bring justice.”
A criminal investigation is under way that could result in individuals or organisations being charged. A separate public inquiry aims to shed light on any flaws or irregularities in the design, construction or maintenance of the tower.
Prime Minister Theresa May, opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, London Mayor Sadiq Khan, heir-to-the-throne Prince Charles and his sons Prince William and Prince Harry were among those attending the service along with bereaved families and firefighters who took part in the rescue effort on the night.
The devastation inside Grenfell Tower was such that it took police and forensic scientists several months to recover and identify all human remains. The final death toll was 53 adults and 18 children.
The service began when a white banner bearing a large green heart emblazoned with the word “Grenfell” was carried through the congregation to the pulpit by a Catholic priest and Muslim cleric from the area around the charred tower.
Later, a young Syrian musician played a mournful tune on the oud, an instrument commonly played in the Middle East and parts of Africa, where many Grenfell residents had ties.
A choir of Muslim schoolgirls performed a song titled: Inshallah [By Allah’s grace]. The service also included a rendition of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah performed by a Caribbean-style steel band, and a performance of Somewhere from the musical West Side Story.
Schoolchildren from the Grenfell area scattered green hearts, a symbol of solidarity with the victims and survivors, around the cathedral’s altar.
Just as they have done since the tragedy, hundreds of residents and supporters of the Grenfell Tower survivors marched in silence through the streets of west London.
On the day a memorial service was held at St Paul’s Cathedral, friends and relatives of those who lost their lives in the tragedy held signs demanding ‘Justice For Grenfell’ before emotional hugs and handshakes with firefighters who tackled the blaze.
- With additional reports from Reuters