Camberwell tower block fire: 'I lost my entire family'
PRESS ASSOCIATION, GUARDIAN UK
Lakanal House, in Camberwell, after the fire. Photograph: EPA
Two men who both lost their whole families in a devastating tower block fire were among bereaved relatives who have given evidence at a "super-inquest" into the deaths of six people.
Rafael Cervi and Mbet Udoaka were out at work when the blaze broke out, at Lakanal House, in Camberwell, south-east London, in July 2009. Both men managed to speak to their wives by telephone as smoke filled the flat where the women were sheltering.
It also emerged that another victim of the fire, Catherine Hickman, 31, a fashion designer, had asked why there were no diagrams to show where fire exits were in the block.
Jurors at Lambeth town hall heard that Cervi's wife, Dayana Francisquini, 26, his step-daughter, Thais, six, and his son, Felipe, three, all died in the tragedy.
Dayana's father, Fernando Francisquini, had been able to see his daughter through the window, moving curtains and a mattress as she was trapped in the flat, the inquest was told.
Cervi told the jury: "I lost my entire family, my wife and a couple of kids. Everything that I built, everything that I dreamed of was over in three hours."
He had rung his wife 10 times, trying to reassure her. He also called 999, and alerted her father, who lived within walking distance of the flat.
Francisquini said they pleaded with firefighters to rescue the family. "Rafael and I were begging them to go and help them as the fire was in the flat next to hers," he said.
Hickman also died in the blaze, along with Helen Udoaka, 34, and her three-week-old daughter, Michelle. Mbet Udoaka said: "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."
Helen Udoaka, 34, who was on maternity leave at the time of the fire, had moved to the UK in 2007 from Nigeria.
James Maxwell-Scott, counsel to the inquest, read parts of a statement made by Mbet Udoaka after the fire, recalling the last conversation he had with his wife.
The statement said: "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."
Hickman's partner, Mark Bailey, also gave evidence, saying she had asked him where the fire exits were, and why there were no diagrams.
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 had said it was "nothing to do with him", the inquest heard.
Bailey was away in New York at the time of the fire, and flew back to be with 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 Hickman's father, Pip, on behalf of her family was read to the hearing by the coroner, Frances Kirkham.
Hickman explained that the designer had seen her work stocked by shops in New York, had been commissioned by the singer Björk, and had worked for the chain 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."