LONDON — It was harrowing for those who listened, but infinitely worse for those whose narrative of loss had been woven into their days and nights since the Grenfell Tower fire took dozens of lives and built voids in the hearts of the survivors.
And perhaps most wrenching of all, as a long-awaited public inquiry into the inferno began hearing evidence in London on Monday, was the story of Logan Gomes, delivered stillborn hours after his family escaped the blaze on June 14, 2017.
On that night, to the horror and shock of the apartment tower’s residents, a fire believed to have started with a faulty electrical appliance leapt up the building unchecked, turning the 24-story tower into a huge torch in West London.
With 72 dead, including Logan, it was among the worst peacetime disasters in the British capital.
“Our sleeping angel, he was,” said Logan’s father, Marcio Gomes, choking back sobs as he presented photographs and tributes to the baby who was delivered, lifeless, in a hospital after Gomes, his wife, and two daughters escaped their apartment on the 21st floor.
He recalled holding the dead infant, “hoping it was all a bad dream,” and the child looking like “he was just sleeping, as babies do.”
Logan’s birth had been expected more than two months later, around Aug. 21, and his family had been planning for the arrival with joy and some attention to detail, his father said. “At least we were able to hold him and be with him,” Gomes said.
“This has been our hardest battle,” he added. “You only know what you are made of when you are broken.”
Gomes was the first of many survivors of the Grenfell blaze and family members of victims who plan to chronicle their experiences over the first nine days of the public inquiry.
Such endeavors in Britain are often conducted in the language of lawyers trained in the dry arts of dispassion in their quest for truth and explanations.
But those in charge of the Grenfell inquiry — including its chair, Martin Moore-Bick, a retired senior judge — have been under pressure to show that this investigation is about more than the technicalities of building regulations or fire precautions.
The dead were “not just names, they were people,” Natasha Elcock, a survivor of the fire, told the BBC.
“The public deserve to hear the wonderful characters that were in that block” and “what it is that we have lost as a community,” she added, “to try to get some understanding that this should never have happened.”
In his pinstripe suit and rimless glasses, the silver-haired Moore-Bick seemed to acknowledge that argument.
“During the coming days, there will be much sorrow,” he said. “That sorrow will, I hope, be tempered by memories of past happiness.”
The narratives to be offered by the survivors “are an integral part of the evidence,” he added, after asking those attending to stand for 72 seconds of silence to commemorate the victims.
The investigation’s formal agenda includes a wide array of technical issues relating to the circumstances and causes of the blaze, the design of the building, modifications to its structure since it was completed in 1974, and the “scope and adequacy” of building regulations.
The public inquiry is not the only attempt to explain what happened.
Police investigators have been charged with discovering whether crimes were committed. Just last week, a separate inquiry by a government-appointed engineer, Judith Hackitt, concluded that Britain’s building safety regulations were lax and confused.
But Hackitt’s 159-page report stopped short of recommending a ban on flammable facades, particularly the kind of cladding that proved to be a critical element in the rapid spread of the Grenfell fire.
The public inquiry will be conducted in the context of a far deeper tangle of political maneuvering and passions.
Survivors have depicted the blaze as an emblem of official indifference toward ordinary people living — and dying — in social housing in the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea, one of London’s wealthiest areas.
“This should be a really seminal inquiry, and you can’t get it right unless you have the community at the heart of it,” said Diane Abbott, a senior lawmaker from the opposition Labor Party. “Grenfell is more than the sum of its parts.
It is the technical aspects of how the fire started, but there are also broader issues that we need to touch on.”