Chair, this is, this was, Mohamed Amied Neda. I hope what I say today does justice to the memory of Mr Neda and give some comfort to his family, who are here today, Farhad and Shakila. He was affectionately known as Saber. Saber in Persian means patience it is the same in Urdu and Arabic. It described Mr Neda to a tee; he was the epitome of patience. He was born on the 3rd of May 1960 in Afghanistan. He was a loving husband to Shakila and father to his son Farhad.
He died aged 57 on the 14th June 2017.
He lived with his wife and son in Flat 205 Grenfell Tower, on the 23rd Floor, their tenancy having commenced on the 17th May 1999.
You will recall, as Mr Friedman Queen’s Counsel mentioned, the commemoration hearing of 21st of May 2018, where Shakila, Farhad and Saber’s brother Arif provided a more detailed picture of Saber and the loving relationship they had between them.
Saber met his wife Shakila in 1989 when they were 28 and 26 years old, respectively. At the time, he was a high-ranking officer in the Afghan army. They married in Kabul in 1991 and were husband and wife for over 27 years. Shakila says it was “A marriage full of love”.
Saber and his family fled Afghanistan in 1998 because of the risk they faced from the Taliban. He was targeted as an army officer and Shakila, who was a primary school teacher, was no longer able to work as the Taliban closed the school where Shakila worked. The family sought refuge in the UK and came to London in March 1998 where they were able to claim asylum.
Saber was hardworking and took whatever work he could find to support his family, including as a minicab driver. His experience as a driver led him to establish his own chauffeur business where he continued to work for the last 10 years of his life. His son Farhad described him as the sort of person who would “never complain about work and would never take a day off for being sick”
His family affectionately remember a man who took pride in his appearance and was always impeccably turned out; he always wore a smart suit and a range of colourful ties even when not at work. His hard work underpinned his dedication to his family. Farhad says that he grew up in a, “safe home full of love and laughter”
We know that at 00:54 Behailu Kebede made his emergency call to report a fire in the kitchen of Flat 16 on the 4th floor. The spread of fire was sufficiently rapid that occupants on the higher floors were aware within minutes of its start, and by 01:26 the fire had reached the 23rd floor.
Saber and his family had arrived home at 00:52, just moments before the outbreak of the fire. They had spent the evening with Shakila’s sister and family in Heston, having gone there to break their fast as it was Ramadan. When they arrived home the lifts were working and all three went up to their flat in the lift. Both Farhad & Shakila recalled hearing loud noises from the extractor/ventilator fan immediately upon exiting the lift on their floor.
Shakila recalls telling her husband that they should report the noise to the TMO as it was so loud and they would not be able to sleep. Farhad telephoned the TMO and was told that an engineer was on his way to fix it. He also recalls being told that the Fire Brigade were also coming. Whilst they waited they noted that one of the lifts was now not working and had an out of order/out of service message, whereas both lifts had been working earlier when they arrived home.
Farhad called the out of hours service at 01:10 to report the noise from the extractor fan and approximately 10 minutes later his mother said she could smell something burning – Farhad described this as “an electrical burning smell” and Shakila as “burning rubber” . We understand that Mohamed Neda was not aware of the smell as he could not smell very well following earlier surgery on his nose.
Upon realising that there was a fire they went onto their landing to investigate, and saw their neighbours from Flat 206, Fathia Elsanousi and her daughter Isra Ibrahim on the landing in a very distressed state.
They also saw a lot of people from the lower floors coming up the stairs in a state of panic and telling them that there was a fire and that they had been told to go up to the top floor. These people included Mariem Elgwahry and her mother Esla Elgwahry and two sisters Sakina and Fatima Afrasahabi. These four people came into the Neda’s flat seeking refuge from the fire. The others went into the adjoining flats on the 23rd floor.
Farhad has said that the presence of people coming up and those who said there was a fire further below together with the fact that they had been told by the LFB to go up influenced his family’s decision to go back into their flat.
We know that multiple calls were made from occupants on the 23rd floor to their loved ones. Mariem Elgwahry made several 999 calls from the Neda’s flat:
a. At 01.27.42 she made a call to the LFB – she told the LFB controller that there were 7 people in flat 205. She told them that she could not see fire or smoke but that she had come up from the floor below and that was fully on fire.
b. At 01.37.25 she made another call to the LFB where a controller advised her that the fire units were to be notified.
c. At 01.54.10 she again called the LFB on which occasion she told them that the flat was now full of smoke and there were flames at the windows and that there was no way out.
d. At 02.24.34 – she made a final call to the LFB to say that they were trapped in the flat with the fire. The controller told them that they should cover their mouths with wet towels if they were going to leave the flat.
The Neda family made and received several telephone calls from family and friends outside the tower asking what they were doing to try to get out.
Farhad Neda confirms in his account that he recalls Mariem Elgwahry making calls to the emergency services. He also states that neither he, nor his father or mother made calls to the emergency services, however he did speak to friends outside the Tower, and on one occasion Farhad was very clear that he spoke to a firefighter as one of his friends outside the tower passed their phone so he could speak to one of them directly.
The firefighter’s response was, and I now quote from Farhad “that they were making their way up…..that firefighters had reached a certain level, but he did not know which, and they were on their way up… He told me we should stay in the flat. He told me to stay put”.
They looked out of the kitchen window and in desperation signalled with the lights and screens on their phones to attract the attention of emergency services on the ground.
By 02:00 the conditions in Flat 205 were rapidly deteriorating – the fire had entered the front bedroom situated at the front door. Saber instructed everyone to stay away from the bedroom and for them all to gather in the kitchen.
Thick smoke filled the flat. They soaked towels and filled water bottles. Quite horrifically, Shakila felt that she had no option but to throw herself out of the window saying that she did not want to be burnt alive. She believes this to be around 2am. She says she was pulled back by Saber and Farhad and it was at this point they agreed they had no option but try to leave and make their way down.
Farhad took his mother and left the flat after placing wet towels over their faces. Saber told his wife and son that he would be right behind them as they left.
Saber stayed behind to offer assistance to the Elgwahry and Afrasehabi families. This was the last time Shakila and Farhad saw their husband and father.
They believed Saber was behind them with the four women and their last sight of him alive was seeing him helping the women with the wet towels.
Farhad and Shakila made their way out down the stairs through thick black choking smoke, Farhad carrying and dragging his mother out, believing Saber was somewhere behind them.
Shakila called out to Saber when they reached the stairwell door but he did not answer. She attempted to go back to him but Farhad told her they would not make it out of the tower if they turned back.
We know that Saber spoke to his nephew Lotfrahman Habibrahman Abdulrahman at 02.37 when Saber asked what was going on and why nobody had come to help them. He said that unless someone came to help them within the next minute then he and the others in the flat would be dead as the fire had reached the inside of the flat. This was the last they heard from him.
We also know that upon returning home, Saber’s brother in law HabibRahman Abdulrahman found a voice message on his phone from Saber in which he said this, and I quote: “Goodbye, I am leaving this world, goodbye. I hope you won’t be in pain, goodbye everyone”. This was the last message he left before he died. We are told that his voice was calm and he clearly did not show any fear.
At this point it is worth noting that amongst the very many serious health issues that Shakila had endured and was enduring by the time of the fire, in December 2009 she was formally diagnosed with a condition called myasthenia gravis. This is a rare condition that caused her to suffer with muscle weakness. The condition most commonly affected her muscles such that she got cramps in her limbs, and suffered with breathing difficulties. In 2017 her mobility was seriously affected. After the diagnosis, Shakila generally went out of the house with Saber and when she did so, she didn’t need to use her walker or her wheelchair as Saber held on to her hand and walked slowly with her. On bad days she used a walking stick as she couldn’t walk more than 50 or 100 metres before feeling severe discomfort. Her condition was such that following her diagnosis, Shakila only used the lifts at the Tower and could not use the stairs on her own. If the lifts were not working, she could not leave the house. If she arrived home to find they were not working either Saber or Farhad helped her up the stairs to the 23rd floor. This mammoth effort took up to an hour.
This was the Shakila that left her flat without her husband who, had until then been her support and carer. She left with her son Farhad and both had to undertake the task of getting out of the Tower. Because of her mobility issues Farhad had to carry his mother by clasping her around the waist with one arm around his shoulders so she could lean on him to carry her weight.
Farhad had told his mother that there were 12 steps on each staircase and 24 steps for each floor. She has said that she could feel something beneath her feet as they were going down the stairs. When she asked Farhad what it was, he told her not to worry, it was just the fire hoses as the fire fighters were still coming. He told his mother to be careful and he hugged her close to him. He put his hand on her shoulder and told her that he was with her. Farhad said to his mother: 'Just stay with me.'
Shakila recalls that at around the 18th floor she stumbled and Farhad turned on the light of his mobile telephone. He only kept it on for a few minutes as he did not want to drain the battery. The light was not very helpful in the pitch black smoke on the stairwell but what it did show in shocking, graphic detail was the sight of people lying motionless on the stairs. Farhad kept the light on for few minutes so that they could see where they were placing their feet to avoid stepping on people. Shakila says, perhaps thankfully, they didn’t see the faces or any identifying features of those who were on the stairs as it was very difficult to see through the thick smoke. She did however say to her son that they were not walking over hose pipes, they were walking over people.
At that point Farhad had no choice but to now carry his severely disablde mother down the stairs on his back as she could no longer walk. Shakila says this of their walk down the stairs that night: “I would never have had any chance at all of getting out of the Tower if it were not for the incredible strength and love of my son”.
Whilst it is claimed that The Paddington Crew of the LFB had been deployed to the roof to tackle the fire from that aspect, we know that no firefighter managed to reach the 23rd floor.
And despite the repeated advice of the emergency services to multiple occupants on this floor that firefighters were making their way to them, no dedicated BA crew was deployed to the 23rd floor until after 02:08 and none reached the floor.
CM Evans and FF Bloxham were briefed to go to Flat 205 and they tallied out at 02:24:24 and 02:24:33 respectively but between floors 18-20, they claim that they came across a male and female casualty who were purported to be Shakila and Farhad Neda.
Shakila disputes this and has stated in her Inquiry Witness Statement that they did not come across any firefighters until much lower down the Tower saying, and I quote “maybe it was the 6th, 5th or 4th floor”.
Detective Superintendent Paul Warnett has provided an account in which he states that at 02:40hrs approximately he was made aware that a male had been seen to fall from the mid-to-upper floors, landing within the Children’s Play Area to the west of the Tower.
With the assistance of a colleague and firefighters, this individual was moved to a place of safety where paramedics could attend to him. Detective Warnett recalled that the male they had recovered clearly had serious injuries.
He was moved to the MPS tent outside the Kensington Leisure Centre where a paramedic quickly confirmed there were no signs of life. We now know that this was Saber.
Saber’s life was pronounced extinct at 02:50. The Post Mortem Report concludes that Saber died from, and I quote: ‘multiple injuries consistent with fall from height’.
A sample of his blood showed that it was oily and had begun to separate. It showed a concentration of 20% carboxyhaemoglobin. In addition there were reported to be slight soot deposits on his face and clothes and in his nostrils. There were no burns.
In relation to the blood analysis and the events prior to his death Professor Purser, in his evidence to the Inquiry a few days ago (on the 29/6/22) said this and I quote: ‘Mr Neda fell from the tower with 20% [that is 20% carboxyhaemoglobin] in his blood at the time he fell. If he waited until that point and then decided to walk down, following his son and his wife, there was a good chance he would have not been able to walk all the way down, he would have collapsed on the way down, because he’s preloaded 20. By the time he was halfway down the stair, he probably would have reached the point of collapse.”
Farhad has said this about the last time he saw his father as he escaped with his mother “It was the last time my eyes set eyes on my best friend in the world. Dad was a hero, to my mind. He could have come with us, at that moment. However he did not want to 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. He certainly did not put himself first and just rush out with us. He was being composed and caring towards the four women who had looked to him for help. He knew full well, as mum and I, and those ladies, that we were all in mortal danger. He knew full well that time was running out and his instinct must have been to go immediately, but being the sort of man he was he delayed for those moments whilst he helped others prepare for the thick smoke outside our flat. For me and my mother it took a super human and enormous physical effort to survive. We were just lucky that part of the way down we found a pocket of better air that allowed me to push on. No words can convey the sadness knowing that all five died in the fire. No words can convey the loss of my dear dad. However, I am extremely proud of him. He gave those ladies comfort and encouragement when all hope looked lost at the top of Grenfell Tower”.
Shakila, Saber’s wife has said this: “[Our] hopes and our dreams have been shattered. The chance to enjoy… special moments as a close, loving family has been taken away from us, and there is a heavy sense of loss within our hearts which will never go away. Saber had always been there for all of us. He never complained and he always did everything with a smile, He was my husband and he was my best friend. I miss him so much.’
Click the link below to access the live submission by Imran Khan QC and audio transcript.