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Camberwell tower block inquest: Father tells of loss of family

London Fire Service handout photo of a grab taken from a video of a fire at a block of flats in Camberwell, south London, after a fire ripped through the tower block, killing six people. Picture: London Fire Service/PA Wire London Fire Service handout photo of a grab taken from a video of a fire at a block of flats in Camberwell, south London, after a fire ripped through the tower block, killing six people. Picture: London Fire Service/PA Wire

Tuesday, January 15, 2013
11:31 AM

A man who lost his wife, son and step-daughter in a tower block fire told an inquest today that “everything that I built, everything that I dreamed of was over in three hours”.

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Rafael Cervi was giving evidence at the “super inquest” into the deaths of six people who were killed in the blaze at Lakanal House, Camberwell, in July 2009.

Mr Cervi’s wife Dayana Francisquini, 26, three-year-old son Felipe and step-daughter Thais, six, all died in the tragedy.

He told jurors at the hearing at Lambeth Town Hall: “I lost my entire family, my wife and a couple of kids that I had.

“Everything that I built, everything that I dreamed of was over in three hours.”

Mr Cervi met his wife when her daughter Thais was three months old at a Brazilian club.

He told the inquest that a week later he met “the little one, her name was Thais, and after that I couldn’t leave both of them”.

Mr Cervi continued: “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”, the jury was told.

Mr Cervi said his wife “loved to dance” and was “never tired” despite looking after two children.

He was working near London Bridge on the day of the fire, and only knew about the blaze when his wife rang him just before 4.30pm.

Mr Cervi called her 10 times, and alerted her father who was closer to Camberwell at the time.

He also tried to reassure his wife over the phone and dialled 999, but said he felt “useless” that he could not help more.

Mr Cervi watched the fire with his father-in-law Fernando Francisquini and initially reassured his wife that the flames did not look as if they were spreading to their flat.

However as things got worse he told a fireman that Dayana said Felipe “was not OK”, and that he thought his son was dying.

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.”

Designer Catherine Hickman, 31, also died in the blaze, along with 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, and was out at work when the fire started.

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.

“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.”

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