Father who lost wife and children in Camberwell towerblock blaze 'was told by firefighter they would be fine'
Brazilian Rafael Cervi said his way into the block in Camberwell, south London, was barred by police and he was forced to wait helplessly below.
His wife Dayana Francisquini, 26, his step-daughter Thais, six, and his son Felipe, three, all died in the tragedy of July 2009.
Tragedy: Rafael Cervi spoke today of his wife Dayana Francisquini, step-son Filipe, three, and daughter Thais, six, who died in the fire
'How can I go on?': Rafael Cervi arrives at the inquest into his wife and childrens' death in the Camberwell fire today where he spoke movingly of his loss
Tearful: Mr Cervi paid tribute to his wife, who 'loved to dance', and their two children during the inquest into the blaze at Lambeth Town Hall
'Everything that I built, everything that I dreamed of was over in three hours,' Mr Cervis told the 'super inquest' into the deaths of six people in the fire.
He fought back tears as he told the hearing at Lambeth Town Hall: 'I lost my entire family, my wife and a couple of kids.'
Mr Cervi told jurors he met his wife at a Brazilian club when her daughter Thais was three months old. He said his wife 'loved to dance' and was 'never tired' despite looking after two children.
He said that, a week later: 'I met the little one, her name was Thais, and after that I couldn’t leave both of them. When I saw her I was sure that this was my dream daughter.'
The couple’s son Felipe was 'a little bit naughty, doing crazy things', Mr Cervi told the jury, smiling.
Mr Cervi had been working near London Bridge on the day of the fire, and only knew about the blaze when his wife rang him from their 11th-floor flat just before 4.30pm.
Grief: Mark Bailey, left, lost his girlfriend Catherine Hickman, 31, in the blaze while Mbet Udoaka, right, lost his wife Helen and baby daughter Michelle
Killed in the flames: Fashion designer Catherine Hickman, 31, died as she desperately called for help and Michele Udoaka, 34, was also killed along with her tiny three-week-old daughter Michelle
Killed: Helen Udoaka, 34, and her three-week-old daughter Michelle (pictured) also perished in the inferno
He called back - the first of 10 phonecalls - and told her to take the children to the bathroom, which she had said was the least smoky.
Mr Cervi alerted her father, who was closer to the 14-storey building in Camberwell at the time, and rushed home in a taxi.
But he was stopped by a police officer at a cordon. ‘He told me I cannot pass through,’ said Mr Cervi. ‘I mentioned to him, I have my wife and kids stuck in Flat 81.’
He dialled 999 and tried to reassure his wife on the phone, but said he felt 'useless' that he could not help more.
Mr Cervi told the inquest that his wife said someone else who had sought refuge in the flat had left but she couldn’t because 'she had been told to stay inside'.
Mr Cervi and his father-in-law Fernando Francisquini watched from the ground and initially reassured Ms Francisquini that the flames did not look as if they were spreading to their flat.
However, as things got worse, he told a fireman that his wife said Felipe 'was not OK', and that he thought his son was dying.
He said he was approached by a man in uniform who told him his wife was 'fine' in the burning block.
Mr Cervi said: 'I was standing there, he came and approached me and said, "I have been talking to your wife on the phone." I mentioned to him about where she was and he said she needed to stay there. He said he was talking to her and she was fine.
'He came over two times. The last time he came over he said, she is fine. I had spoken to her ten seconds before and said no, she is not fine, she has just hung up on me.
'That was the last time I spoke to him and that is when I figured out he was lying.'
Later, he struggled to find out what had happened to his family.
He told the jury: 'I was expecting my daughter to be alive... at least one of them. But I couldn’t find them.'
Catherine Hickman, 31, also died in the blaze, after being told to stay in her flat by an operator.
Ms Hickman was described in court as a talented fashion designer who had made clothes for singer-songwriter Bjork.
She had worked for a string of fashion companies and boutiques after graduating from the Winchester School of Art, later working for FCUK, and lived with her hairdresser boyfriend Mark Bailey.
Helpless: Mr Cervi said he called his wife ten times and dialled 999 as he and his father-in-law stood below
A family statement read to the inquest said: ‘To describe in words Catherine and her attributes would take us through day and night.
‘Here are just a few: beautiful, kind, loving, warm, genuine, trustworthy, loyal, funny, proper, sweet, pure, classic, talented, unique, and irreplaceable.
‘Catherine lived a London life but was a true country girl at heart.- a life cruelly cut short. All those who knew Catherine are heartbroken.’
Another victim was Helen Udoaka, 34, and her three-week-old daughter Michelle.
Mrs Udoaka’s husband Mbet told the hearing that he met his wife in Nigeria in 2003, and they got married four years later. She had a degree in business management but was on maternity leave with 20-day-old Michelle at the time of their deaths.
Mr Udoaka was studying for an MBA and worked part-time as a security guard.
He told the inquest: 'I have been very traumatised by the loss of both Helen and Michelle. We planned to have two kids as soon as possible. We might have had at least two of them by now.
'Lies': The Brazilian said a man in uniform told him his family were 'fine' - even after he knew they were not
'My life will never be the same again, I can never get over these deaths, over the death of my beautiful Helen and my lovely Michelle. I’m really hoping that one day I will get to see them again - this is what I keep saying to her each time I go to the cemetery.’
Jurors heard Mrs Udoaka rang her husband from their home at around 4.30pm, while he was at work.
She told him ‘everywhere was covered with smoke and she couldn’t breathe’, said counsel to the inquest James Maxwell-Scott.
The couple spoke at least ten times more until their final conversation at 5.30pm.
‘The last words she said to me were, the smoke is too much, she can’t bear it anymore, and Michelle, our daughter, is going to heaven,’ he said.
‘She said, if I didn’t see her again, then she’s going to heaven. Then the line went silent.’
Eno Udoaka, a cousin of Mr Udoaka's, told jurors he had lived with the couple several years earlier.
He rang Mrs Udoaka just moments before she died.
'I could hear everyone coughing in the background,’ he said. ‘She said she and the bbay couldn’t breathe any more - the smoke was too great and the fire was coming near.
‘She said to tell Mbet, "I love him, Michelle loves him".’
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