THE father-of-two who lived in the flat where the Grenfell fire started wished he had ‘burned in the tower with the others’, the inquiry into the disaster heard.
Behailu Kebede said coverage of the disaster painted ‘a completely distorted picture’ that portrayed him ‘like a criminal who was to blame for the fire’ which killed 72 people in West London on June 14 last year.
False rumours that the Ethiopian-born Uber driver, 45, 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.
His lawyer said he was too ‘terrified’ to attend the inquiry in person and his statement was read by its lead counsel Richard Millett QC.
In it, Mr Kebede said he had refused an offer to be placed in witness protection and his family have been living in various hotels ever since.
He said: ‘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.
‘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.’
Mr Kebede said he was ‘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,’ he added. ‘Even though my family and friends keep telling me I am not responsible and I know they are right, I cannot help but blame myself.’
CCTV images were shown of a barefoot Mr Kebede leaving the building followed by his two female housemates, Elsa Afeworki and Almaz Kinfu. In his 999 call he was heard telling Ms Kinfu to leave a suitcase she was carrying.
Meanwhile, it emerged 12-year-old victim Jessica Urbano Ramirez spent 55 minutes on the phone with an emergency operator. She was alone in her family’s 20th floor flat when the fire took hold but left to seek shelter on the 23rd.
The inquiry continues.