The father of a young girl who escaped the Grenfell Tower fire has admitted he thought of leaving her to sleep rather than “waking her up to die in pain”.
Giving evidence to the inquiry into the disaster, which killed 72 people, Richard Fletcher said in his written statement that he seriously considered not waking his child until becoming filled with an “incredible” determination to save his family.
The transport worker, who was on duty during the 7/7 London bombings, said he sprang “back into fighting mode” as it dawned on him that he did not want his daughter to die at such a young age.
“Momentarily I thought the best thing to do was to climb back into bed with our daughter, with my wife and me on either side of our daughter, to cuddle up with her and let the smoke and fire take us,” he said.
“By letting her sleep it would mean that the last moments of her life would not involve her screaming in terror. I thought it was better and kinder that we let her continue to sleep and die quietly.
“I did not want her to wake and be in pain and for her last minutes to be moments of terror.”
Once he made the decision to try to evacuate his family, Mr Fletcher, who was 42 at the time of the fire, said his previous experiences had helped him stay calm as he navigated the thick plumes of smoke.
He said he knew the stairs down from his 16th floor flat were the only route out of the building.
Before they left the flat, he told his wife: “Whatever happens don’t let go of me.
“We get out together or we die together.”
The three managed to cross the pitch black lobby to reach the smoke-free stairwell – an experience Mr Fletcher relived during his testimony as “a stab in the dark”.
They then “carefully” made their way down the stairs, and Mr Fletcher said they were prepared to jump out of a window if their route became blocked.
CCTV shows he left the tower with his daughter in his arms at 1.31am – just over half an hour after he saw fire engines arriving at the scene of the blaze.
Four minutes before they made it out, mother-of-three Mariko Toyoshima-Lewis dialled 999 from her third-floor flat to report the fire.
The mother-of-three, who is registered disabled and has a raft of other medical conditions, said she had to wait 45 minutes until firefighters came to rescue her – and that upon arrival they accused her of flouting health and safety guidelines because her mobility scooter was blocking her front door.
“When the firefighters saw me and my family they just started swearing,” she told the inquiry.
“I have never heard swearing like it before, they said words to the effect of ‘F****** Jesus Christ! What are you doing?’
“I think they were freaking out because of the wheelchair and mobility scooter blocking the front door. I remember them telling me that I had nearly killed my children because I hadn’t followed health and safety guidelines.”
She acknowledged that she had been warned not to keep the items outside her flat following a risk assessment, but said they did not fit through her “narrow” door and that her flat had not been fully adapted for her needs by the time of the fire.
Firefighters took her former partner David and their three children down the stairs to safety first, and two of the crew returned minutes later to carry her down the stairs.
She was then put in a wheelchair on a sloping grass verge “very close” to the tower and was eventually moved further away as she did not feel safe.
Inquiry chairman Sir Martin Moore-Bick thanked Ms Toyoshima-Lewis and Mr Fletcher for coming to give evidence, and praised the latter for his “great coolness of judgement” on the night of the tragedy.
The public inquiry is currently in its first phase, hearing from survivors, the bereaved and local residents, at Holborn Bars, in central London.