Grenfell Tower survivor describes how father died trying to help neighbours in burning building

Harriet Agerholm

A “hero” father died after trying to save his neighbours from the Grenfell Tower fire, his son has told the public inquiry into the blaze.

Saber Neda, 57, stayed behind on the night of the fire to help four women secure wet towels over their faces to protect them from the smoke, Farhad Neda said.

Saber’s body was later found on the ground outside the tower, after the 57-year-old jumped to escape the inferno.

Farhad, now 26, survived the fire along with his disabled mother, who he carried from their 23rd floor flat to safety through dense smoke.

As flames raced up the 24-storey building in the early hours of 14 June last year, residents on lower floors climbed up to the 23rd floor, which was the highest level that included flats.

The Neda family took in four women, who said they had been told there was no way out down the stairs, Farhad said.

They hoped to be rescued by helicopter from the top of the building, but the door to the 24th floor – needed to access the roof – was locked, according to his statement.

The group initially followed firefighters’ advice to stay inside the Neda’s flat, but realised “no one was coming to rescue us” after the fire broke into the apartment, Farhad said.

“I grabbed my mum and I shouted to my dad: ‘We need to leave now’”, he said.

Farhad and his mother, Flora Neda, 55, used wet towels to cover their mouths, while his father helped their four neighbours.

“The last vision I have of him was my father getting the ladies and himself ready to face that thick, black smoke”, he said.

“Dad was a hero, to my mind. He could have come with us, at that moment. However, he did not leave those women who were distressed and needed help in our flat.

“He died trying to save their lives, he gave them hope and encouragement. He was calm and he did not panic.”

Farhad said that when he and his mother left the flat, “it was pitch black and thick with smoke.”

They felt their way over to the staircase, where he decided he needed to carry his mother, who has mobility problems due to a muscular disease.

“I got my mum to put her hands and arms around my shoulders, so that I took her body weight across my back and shoulders,” he said in his statement.

“I then started to carry and drag her down the stairwell in order to save our lives. I told her not to let go of me.

“I was sure that if she did let go and came off my back then we would lose each other, as it was completely black and dark with smoke, and there would be no way of finding one another again.”

Flora wanted to turn back to find her partner, but “I knew if we went back we would all die as it was so hard to breathe”, Farhad said.

“My mum was calling out for my dad to make sure he was behind us but we could not hear his voice.”

Farhad and his mother were “stepping and tripping over dead bodies” as they made their way down the building’s single staircase, he said.

“All the people on the stairs were dead or laying down, about to die.

“We were unable to help anyone as we were seriously struggling to keep ourselves alive.

“The sounds from the people who were dying will never leave me. I could not do anything to help them as I had to carry mum and try and stay alive.

“I can still hear the sounds of people desperately struggling to breathe. It sounded like they were snoring, as they choked for their last remaining gasps of air in that incredibly hot and toxic environment. It was a nightmare.

Having his mother with him helped him keep going, Farhad said, adding: “I knew if I stopped she and I would die.”

The pair eventually made it out of the tower and were taken to hospital, where doctors placed Farhad in an induced coma for a day and a half.

Several days after the blaze, Farhad learned his father and the four women who sought refuge in his family’s flat were among the 71 people killed by the fire.

During commemorative hearings in May, the inquiry was played a voicemail message left by Saber in which he said: “Goodbye. We are now leaving this world, goodbye. I hope I haven’t disappointed you.”

Farhad received the message some weeks after his father’s death, he said.

Asked by first counsel to the inquiry Richard Millett QC if he had anything to add to his evidence, Farhad said: “I feel that the residents were fatally let down.

“I was on several occasions told that they were on their way to get us. I feel that this was false hope.

“I feel that it’s this false hope which prevented quite a number of people from escaping that night.”

The inquiry also received a written statement from Ahmed Elgwahry, who was on the phone to his mother, Eslah Elgwahry, and sister, Mariem Elgwahry, when they succumbed to the smoke.

The bodies of the mother and daughter, aged 64 and 27, were later found side by side inside the Neda’s apartment – number 205.

Mr Elgwahry recalled waking up in the early hours to several missed calls from his sister.

He raced from his house in Hendon, north London, to the foot of the Kensington tower where he telephoned his sister and urged her to leave her flat, but she said the smoke was too thick.

“She started coughing,” Mr Elgwahry said in his written statement.

Mariem Elgwahry was 27 years old when she died in the Grenfell Tower fire

“I could hear more people coughing, and I said, ‘Don’t talk Mariem, just stay with me’. Then she didn’t say anything, she just started coughing, and coughing for less than a minute, it was so quick.

“Then she started mumbling and I started panicking, I said ‘Mariem are you still there?’ She just started like humming, like deep humming because she could no longer speak.”

He asked her to bang something to show him she was still conscious, which she did a number of times.

But, “then the mumbling, humming stopped, and then she stopped responding,” Mr Elgwahry said.

“Then I heard my mum for the first time, I heard her voice ... she just said in Arabic ‘I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe.’ She sounded so desperate.

“I didn’t hear her again. She was gone.”

Between five and 10 minutes later, Mr Elgwahry said he heard a crackling noise, followed by the sound of the windows breaking and pots and pans falling.

The public probe into the Grenfell disaster has been hearing evidence from survivors, the bereaved and various members of the north Kensington community at Holborn Bars in central London.

The hearings will resume on Monday 29 October.