The Grenfell Inquiry: The hearing I can’t stop thinking about…

The 21st July 2022 was the final day of evidentiary hearings at the Grenfell Inquiry. Attending that hearing changed me. I’ve struggled over the last months to articulate this and am only beginning to understand and confront the implications of what I heard.


I steal myself as the guards guide me through the security checks. 

It is the last day of the Grenfell Inquiry Evidentiary Hearings.  

This final module sets out the individual circumstances surrounding each death.

I am here to attend the hearings[i] of my former neighbours, the El Wahabi’s.  They all died in their home – flat 182 on the 21st Floor.  

The El Wahabi's evidence read at the Grenfell Tower Inquiry.

Abdulaziz’s sister Hanan, lived on the 9th floor and escaped from the tower with her husband and two children.

The conditions on floor 21 were rapidly deteriorating and changing. It is against that backdrop that we hear about the numerous emergency calls that were made, and the advice given to stay in their flat and wait for the fire service.

One call to a Control Room Operator lasted for 59 minutes.  Beginning at 1:38 (less than an hour after the fire started).  The operator repeatedly tells the family to stay in their flat saying that the firefighters would be coming soon and would have oxygen. As the conditions worsen, she tells them to close windows, cover their faces and move to the bedroom.

Just after 2:21, the control room operator was told by the family that the fire was in the corridor of the flat and that the smoke was coming into the bedroom. She told the family to cover their mouths and to get as close to the floor as they could.

In another call at 2:47 the family say they are now under the bed.  Nur Huda says “We are dying, and we can’t get out”. They are told the fire service is on its way. Abdulaziz says “I could have got out a long time ago, we could have but they said stay in the flat, stay in the flat. We stayed in the flat; we didn’t leave.”

In the final calls with the control room the family are advised to leave but they say it is too late as there is too much smoke and they cannot breathe.

According to the archaeological records, they all died in one of the bedrooms.  They were lying close together

Juxtaposed with these calls, outside the tower, Hanan and other members of her family were having desperate phone calls with the El Wahabi’s, pleading with them to ‘get out’.  They stood outside the tower, watching the horror of the spreading flames unfold, they could see Abdulaziz and his family inside their flat at the windows.

According to protocols, Flat 182 should have been a priority for evacuation as it was known that there were children present.

There were no firefighter crews deployed or making it to that floor.   

In the words of counsel Mary Monroe:

One branch of the family survived: Hanan, her husband, her children. They did not make any emergency calls, they evacuated and survived.  They live to mourn and question why.

That afternoon has changed me in ways I do not yet understand. 

I struggle to reconcile the faith the El Wahabi’s placed in the control room operator’s advice.  Listening to them over their own families.

It has made me think very differently about the burden of leadership. About the advice we given and the decisions we take.

About the very real consequences of our failure to learn from tragic events. 

When I think about this last module and the images of the archaeological remains of families dying together with the parents forming protective rings around their children. I am overwhelmed by concern about the cult of expertise and the advise we so freely give.

Ultimately the effectiveness of regulations and safety cases and competence frameworks and other changes, are bounded by the soundness of the decisions we make and the moral leadership and courage we bring to making them.

I urge us all to heed the closing remarks of Counsel to the Inquiry Richard Millet that so eloquently captures the burden we face (and mostly don’t confront).

… every decision, every act, omission, interpretation, understanding, practice, policy, protocol, affects someone somewhere, someone who is unknown and unseen, but who is an adored child, a beloved sister, a respected uncle, a needed mother[i]

May those words ring in our ears and may the voices of those not here help us make better decisions.

Reference Materials

[i] Transcript 21 July 2022_0.pdf (

[i] Transcript 21 July 2022_0.pdf (, pp 89-120.

You can watch Millet’s closing statements for Module 8 here starting at 1:40

KC Mary Monroe evidence (starting at 24:00)

Hanan Wahabi’s evidence at the Inquiry.

The Commemoration Hearings for the El Wahabi’s can be found here. pg 14 – 51

And the video of The El Wahabi’s Commemoration starting at 22:07.

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