A firefighter who attended Grenfell Tower has described how “young thugs” angry at the emergency response hurled abuse at them – minutes after he rescued four people.
Elliott Juggins, a firefighter based at Lambeth, was two months into the development stage of his career when he was sent to tackle the inferno on June 14 last year.
He was part of a team that helped save four trapped residents from the 14th floor, but did not realise four others had accidentally been left to their deaths.
In a written statement to the Grenfell Tower inquiry, the firefighter recounted seeing three people shoot out of flat 113, followed by a fourth, believed to be Omar al-Haj Ali, who grabbed his shoulder.
He quickly rushed to the stairwell with the residents and helped them down to the ground floor.
Fellow firefighter Peter Herrera mistakenly thought the flat was now empty, leaving behind Mr al-Haj Ali’s brother, Mohammad, mother and son Zainab and Jeremiah Deen and Denis Murphy.
They all died that night.
Mr Juggins recalled taking the four 14th floor occupants to the ground floor and then venturing outside – where he was accosted by crowds watching from a nearby road.
His statement, published by the inquiry on Tuesday, said: “Having got out, we were then bombarded with what I could describe as young thugs.
“They appeared to be standing on cars and there were about five or six of them. I believe they were all male.
“They were giving us abuse, throwing objects at us and they were basically saying ‘why aren’t we doing anything, why aren’t we in there’.
“There was a fence separating them from us.
“I can understand their frustration but what they didn’t realise is that we had just come from being in the tower.”
Police were alerted to the disturbance and dealt with the incident, he said.
Mr Juggins made four journeys up the burning tower that night – more than most firefighters who have so far given evidence to the probe.
His statement said that tension continued to build on the streets surrounding the block as the fire raged.
Describing a moment later in the night, he said: “The riot police had been called by this point as they were dealing with the trouble that was going on in the streets, the objects that were being thrown and due to the falling debris.
“So we needed to be escorted under shields from the safe area back into the building.”
Like previous firefighters linked to the doomed 14th floor rescue mission, Mr Juggins told the inquiry he later found a “hysterical” Omar al-Haj Ali, who reported his brother was still trapped.
They heard from the other rescued residents – family-of-three Oluwaseun Talabi, his partner and their young daughter – that others had been left behind, information they passed on to their superiors.
Once dawn had broken over the fire-mangled remains of Grenfell Tower, Mr Juggins spent time talking to the crowds on the surrounding streets.
His statement said: “You then start speaking to the community as it is morning now and people are waking up to this, as some hadn’t seen it through the night and you have hundreds and thousands of people in this small area.
“People are giving us abuse or asking questions.
“You can’t give them answers as you just (don’t) know what to say, as we don’t know who we carried out and who was in there.
“You have dealt with that fire for 10 hours, the people that were inside, you have done jobs, you have gone looking for crews, you then have to deal with hysterical people outside and you can’t give them an answer, all you can do is direct them, direct them to the incident commanders or the liaison officers.
“For the next two hours we were just walking around the community, talking to people.”
The inquiry continues.