Grenfell: Man contemplated jumping 18 floors while holding five-year-old son

Helicopter cameras captured Paulos Tekle as he held his son Isaac Paulos on their balcony, the family’s lawyer told the inquiry.

20 July 2022

The image of a father contemplating jumping from the 18th floor of Grenfell Tower while holding his five-year-old son has become “one of the defining moments” of the tragedy, the inquiry has heard.

Helicopter cameras captured Paulos Tekle with his son, Isaac Paulos, on their balcony, after firefighters had told them to stay in the burning building for almost an hour.

Isaac died from smoke inhalation, which Mr Tekle believes could have been avoided if he had not listened to the advice of the fire service.

The family’s lawyer, Imran Khan QC, told the Grenfell Tower Inquiry that the helicopter image has not been released due to the distress it would cause the family.

Tower block fire in London
Isaac with his mother Genet Shawo (Grenfell Tower Inquiry/PA)

Mr Tekle, a British citizen originally from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, lived in flat 153 of the North Kensington tower with his partner, Genet Shawo, and their sons Isaac, and Lucas, who was then three.

Mr Khan told the inquiry that on the night of the fire, the family gave shelter to Yehualashet Enyew, who had been staying at flat 155, and a woman from flat 152 with her three children.

He said Mr Tekle and Ms Shawo “made and received multiple calls to emergency services” from 2.07am, and call handlers advised them to “stay put” until around 3am.

Mr Khan said two firefighters came to their doorstep at around 2am and provided them with advice, but did not have enough oxygen to rescue them.

Mr Tekle blamed the fire service for the death of his son.

In a statement read by Mr Khan, he said: “I listened to the authorities, and that makes me angry.

“Why were we kept inside for so long? I want answers.

“If I had not listened to the fire brigade, my son Isaac would still be alive today.”

The parents also attempted to make final calls to relatives as they planned to jump from their balcony.

Mr Khan said: “Paulos was contemplating him and his wife sacrificing their lives for the lives of their children.

“Paulos slowly climbed on to the balcony with Isaac in his arms, and was about to jump to certain death in order to save his son.

“Paulos has said that he considered this more than once, and this image of him sitting on his balcony with Isaac in his arms has become one of the defining moments of that day.

“It encapsulated, in a way that words cannot, the sheer desperation of those who had come to the conclusion that the fire service was not going to help them escape the tower.

“Those who needed help, and were assured that they were going to get it, were now on their own.”

Tower block fire in London
Isaac died on the 13th floor of Grenfell Tower (Grenfell Tower Inquiry/PA)

After the stay-put advice changed, the family prepared to leave along with the other residents in their flat.

Mr Tekle took his youngest son Lucas and handed Isaac to the only other male adult present, Mr Enyew, and the residents made the descent through thick smoke.

Three firefighters were close, but did not offer to help with the children, Mr Tekle said.

When the party emerged, Isaac was the only member missing, and Mr Enyew said he had lost him.

“Paulos now wonders how it is that a grown, able-bodied man could have lost a child and why it was the case that the firefighters did not hold on to a young vulnerable five-year old-child,” Mr Khan said.

Mr Enyew had been staying with a woman named Berkti and a child named Biruk, who both died in the fire, according to Mr Tekle’s witness statement.

When they realised Isaac was missing, Ms Shawo was “crawling on the ground, crying and wailing that she had to find her son” and the couple attempted to re-enter the building but were stopped by emergency services.

Mr Khan said: “They continued searching for him in various hospitals, and it was not until a few days later that they found out he was dead by hearing it, not from a police officer, not from a paramedic, not from a firefighter, but from the media.

“They heard of Isaac’s death because it was on the news.”

His body was found on floor 13, and the medical cause of his death was given as smoke inhalation.

Isaac’s parents have described him as “our kind, energetic and generous little boy” who they will “miss forever”.

His teachers have said he was academically gifted, and loved swimming, taekwondo and football.

Tower block fire in London
Isaac Paulos (Metropolitan Police/PA)

Isaac’s parents did not attend the inquiry on Wednesday as it was too painful.

Mr Khan said they “torture themselves with the knowledge that they were unable to carry both of their sons out of the tower”, and agonise over the fact “they don’t know what Isaac’s final moments were”.

He added that Lucas “suffers from severe nightmares” and has begun asking why his parents “did not hold Isaac’s hand”.

Mr Khan said: “This is a question which we suggest might be one that others with Isaac on the night of the fire are better placed to answer than Isaac’s parents.”

The inquiry continues.

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