Grenfell Tower Fire Families Gather and Ask for Justice

LONDON — Five years after a deadly fire ravaged Grenfell Tower and killed 72 people, the families and friends of the victims, as well as survivors and supporters, gathered at Westminster Abbey on Tuesday morning to honor those they lost, and to commemorate a tragedy that is for many still an open wound.

Relatives walked through the abbey’s sculpted door wearing green, Grenfell’s symbolic color, on their shirts, tunics and hijabs. Some wore T-shirts with printed pictures of friends or family members who died in the fire.

“It’s still so painful,” said Anne Murphy, whose son Denis Murphy died in the fire. “We want justice — in my eyes my son and other people were murdered,” she added, as she held a picture of her son.

As he opened a memorial service on Tuesday morning, David Hoyle, the Dean of Westminster, said, “Five years later the loss and the anguish are still vivid and sharp.” He told the attendees, “We gather in sorrow and in pain.”

Leaders from some of London’s Muslim, Jewish, Orthodox and Sikh communities attended the service, to represent the diverse faiths of the people who inhabited Grenfell Tower. “Forever in our hearts,” the assembly responded as the name of each victim was read aloud.

Westminster’s tall arches resonated with the sounds of the abbey’s choir and its organ, but also with the notes of an oud, a pear-shaped stringed instrument, played by a Syrian musician.

Even as attendees gathered in remembrance and grief, a need for accountability and change permeated the ceremony.

“Let us pray for all who bear authority and responsibility for public safety and for justice,” said Pastor Jacqueline Brown of the Lighthouse Community Church,that every voice may be heard, every loss acknowledged, and every lesson learned.”

Five years after the fire, a government inquiry continues, and only after its end might a criminal investigation result in official charges.

Menana Jebari moved to London from Morocco a few months after the fire killed her daughter Faouzia El-Wahabi, her son-in-law and their three children. She is staying here, despite not speaking the language, to testify for the inquiry.

“Being in the court is the only thing that is soothing me,” she said as she stood outside the church. “I am playing my part.”

Faouzia’s cousin, Farah Jniah, 26, said the family lived on the 21st floor of the building and was told by firefighters to stay in their apartment. She said she heard recordings from the emergency number of the final calls the family made, in which they accused firefighters of killing them with their advice.

“We heard it from their mouth what happened,” Ms. Jniah said. “This is why we really need to fight for justice.”

Highly flammable panels on the outside of the tower helped the fire spread quickly. But a first part of the government’s investigation harshly criticized the London Fire Brigade for advising residents to stay in their apartments in the early hours of the fire, based on the assumption that it could be compartmentalized.

Reverend Hoyle asked the attendees to commit to remembering the victims and to seeking justice for those who had been wronged.

“We will seek justice,” the assembly replied.

Michael Gove, a cabinet minister whose responsibilities include housing policy, also attended the ceremony. Afterward, participants laid white roses in the shape of the number 72.

A few miles away, some of the families and survivors planned to gather near Grenfell Tower for a vigil, for laying wreaths and marching in silence to commemorate the victims, but also to send a message to the authorities.

“Many think we would have moved on by now,” Grenfell United, an organization of survivors and the bereaved, said in a statement. “But it’s hard to recover when so little changes. The reality is, it’s still as painful now as it was then.”

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