Tenant of flat where Grenfell fire started ‘wished he had burned in the tower’
Behailu Kebede told the public inquiry he feared for his life because of reports in the press.
The father-of-two who lived in the flat where the Grenfell Tower fire started has described wishing he had “burned in the tower with the others”.
Behailu Kebede, 45, set out his desperation since losing everything on June 14 last year – compounded by a fear for his life – in a statement to the public inquiry.
The Ethiopian-born Uber driver said media coverage painted “a completely distorted picture” that portrayed him “like a criminal who was to blame for the fire”.
His upsetting written account ended: “Sometimes I wish I had burned in the tower with the others. I have been burning inside ever since.”
They wanted to put me into witness protection because they were concerned about reports in the press that showed me in a negative light Behailu Kebede
Suggestions that he caused the fire by tampering with his fridge-freezer or that he had packed a bag before escaping led to safety concerns from the police.
He said in a statement to the inquiry, published on Thursday: “I met a number of officers there. They offered to take me to an unknown address outside London for my own protection.
“They wanted to put me into witness protection because they were concerned about reports in the press that showed me in a negative light, reports suggesting that I was to blame for the fire.
“It was even suggested to me that I might need to change my name and not have any contact with my family.
“I told the police that I did not want to take part in any form of witness protection. Finally, they agreed to let me stay in a different part of London.
“As a result of the media intrusion, my partner and children were forced to move out of their home. The four of us have been living together in various hotels ever since.”
I wanted to pay my respects to the deceased but felt unable to go out on my own. I believed that there were people out there who wanted to hurt my family and me Behailu Kebede
Mr Kebede had been saving to buy his fourth-floor flat in Grenfell Tower under Right to Buy and hoped to move his partner and two children in with him.
Instead, he left Flat 16 for the final time with only his phone, trousers and T-shirt – not even managing to put on a pair of shoes.
His statement continued: “Since the Grenfell Tower fire, my life has been a complete mess. For much of the time, I just wanted to be left alone.
“I had gone through a terrible ordeal that was affecting me mentally and physically. I wanted to meet the families of the bereaved but I did not have the courage to do so.
“I wanted to pay my respects to the deceased but felt unable to go out on my own. I believed that there were people out there who wanted to hurt my family and me.
“This was a very difficult time for me. I did not want to live under witness protection but I still took the threat posed to me seriously.
“I genuinely feared for my life based on the information that the police gave me at that time.
“I knew so many of those who died in the fire at Grenfell Tower. I relive the horrific memories of that night all the time. I have not been able to sleep properly, thinking about those who died and seeing their faces when I close my eyes. Just talking about it is painful.
“I wish I could have banged on more doors and woken up more people. I am haunted by my failure to pick up my flat keys when I left and my inability as a result to get back into the building and warn more people. I feel broken inside. I am not the same man I used to be.
“I am still in fear, looking over my shoulder all the time. I do not feel comfortable in the presence of groups of four or more. I feel scared, as if I want to cry all the time. Sometimes I cannot even express myself and struggle to speak.”
Mr Kebede has not given evidence in person at the probe, saying through his lawyer that he was “terrified”.
His account was read into evidence by lead counsel to the inquiry Richard Millett QC.
The full statement ended: “I do not know what the future holds in store for me. I know I am in a bad place now. I would like to give a positive answer but I find it very difficult to do so at the moment.
“Maybe if the inquiry identifies those who are really responsible for the fire and the deaths of so many people, maybe then I will be able to have a better future.
“Before the fire, I was feeling very hopeful. I was eligible under the Right to Buy scheme and was in the process of purchasing my flat at Grenfell Tower from the council.
“I had been offered a mortgage and was hoping for it all to be finalised by August 2017.
“However, that dream died with the fire. I cannot see a future for myself right now.
“Even though my family and friends keep telling me that I am not responsible for the fire and I know they are right, I cannot help but blame myself.
“Sometimes I wish I had burned in the tower with the others. I have been burning inside ever since.”