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Grenfell Tower Memorial: Survivors and victim's families still struggle to come to terms with fatal tragedy

Bereaved families and survivors of the Grenfell Tower fire were among around 1,500 people who attended St Paul’s Cathedral on Thursday for a memorial of the victims.

While some mourners held white roses, others clutched photographs of their loved ones who died in the inferno. A banner with a green heart and the word “Grenfell” was held high at the forefront of the mourners, who moved as a group when they left the building.

Several members of the royal family – including the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry – attended the ceremony to pay their respects, six months on from the fire that killed 71 people.

Jeremy Corbyn and Theresa May also appeared, entering through a side door, rather than the main entrance.

Prince Harry comforted one bereaved woman as she cried at the end of the service. Fire-fighters managed to pull 78-year-old Fatima Jafari’s husband, Ali Yawar Jafari, from the building, but the 82-year-old died at the scene. As Ms Jafari broke down, the prince said to an interpreter: “Just tell her I am so incredibly sorry for her loss.”

Her daughter, 38-year-old Maria Jafari, said: “It’s very, very hard. Still she cries, every day, every second when we are talking about our father, all the memories come out again. It’s six months and it’s still very hard for us.”

The Independent spoke to the family of 63-year-old Raymond Bernard, who was also known as Moses.

Mr Bernard, who was described as “really caring”, lived alone on the 23rd floor with his King Charles spaniel, Marley.

Despite living on his own, investigators processing the charred remains of the tower identified seven people in his flat, including three children.

Maureen Smith, the mother of his long-term partner, said Mr Bernard had opened his door to families who had fled up the tower in a desperate attempt to escape the flames. The act of compassion was “typical of him”, she said.

The children he sheltered had been put to bed in the bedroom, she said, while the adults gathered in the living room next door.

As Mr Corbyn left the ceremony he was surrounded by mourners who begged him to deliver “justice”.

He hugged one woman tightly as she shared her experiences and said he found the ceremony “very moving”.

Asked what next for the survivors of the fire he told reporters: “Of course we have to mourn those who died as a result of the fire, but families who suffered in the fire should not be in hotels, should not be in bed and breakfasts — for goodness’ sake, we’re the sixth richest country in the world, can’t we house 400 families’?”

Six months on from the fire, four out of five families made homeless are still searching for permanent accommodation, while almost half face Christmas in a hotel. Two days after the disaster, the Prime Minister promised families would be rehoused within three weeks.

Dr David Ison, Dean of St Paul’s, welcomed the guests to the service, extending his words to “those painfully affected who could not face such a public event, those who would have liked to be here in solidarity” and those watching on television. He led the congregation in a minute’s silence, which the council observed separately at the town hall.

Conspicuously absent was leader of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC) council, Elizabeth Campbell, who stayed away at the request of families.

She said it was only right to “respect the wishes of those involved in the service”, adding: “I want them to know that we will be thinking of them.” 

The Bishop of Kensington, the Right Reverend Graham Tomlin, said he hoped the service would reassure the Kensington community that they were not forgotten.

He said: “As we come to the end of this difficult year, as we celebrate Christmas, as we move into a new year, nothing can remove the memory of that night — nor do we want to forget those dearly loved people who were lost.

“And yet my hope and prayer is that this new year can bring new hope of a future, a vision of a city where we lose our self-obsession and listen and learn from places and people that we wouldn’t normally think of reaching out to.”

Local schoolchildren scattered small hand-made green hearts, carried in brown wicker baskets, across the front of the Dome dais as as the St Paul’s Cathedral choir sang.

The Ebony Steel Band, which regularly performs at Notting Hill Carnival, played a verse of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah to the congregation.

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