The man whose apartment caught fire and sparked the Grenfell tower disaster has been offered witness protection and a new identity, an inquiry in London has been told.
The inquiry into the disaster that killed 72 people heard the fire probably started in or around the fridge of Behailu Kebede, who lived on the fourth floor of the west London tower.
His lawyer, Rajiv Menon, told the hearing the fridge had been bought new and had not been tampered with.
He said his client has been hounded and police became so concerned about his welfare they offered him witness protection and a new identity.
“He is a good man. He did nothing wrong. Now he wants privacy for himself and his family,” Mr Menon said.
The lawyer said Mr Kebede has been subjected to sleazy media accusations and harassment that have driven him to despair.
“It was accidental and Mr Kebede bears no responsibility,” he said.
Mr Menon said that shortly before 1am on June 14, 2017, Mr Kebede, who had lived in the block for about 25 years, was woken by his smoke alarm.
He opened his kitchen door to see smoke coming from behind his Hotpoint fridge freezer, which he had bought five years earlier.
He called the emergency services before alerting his neighbours by banging on their doors and shouting “fire”.
Mr Menon said Mr Kebede had left without any clothes or possessions and that claims he had packed a suitcase before raising the alarm were a nasty lie.
He called for the inquiry to clear Mr Kebede of any responsibility for the blaze, which was Britain’s deadliest on domestic premises since World War II and which raised questions about Britain’s social housing, building regulations and fire safety rules.
“Mr Kebede hopes that having heard all the evidence, the inquiry will make a clear and unequivocal statement that Mr Kebede was absolutely blameless for the outbreak of the fire, its spread and its fatal consequences,” he said.
He is a good man. He did nothing wrong. Now he wants privacy for himself and his family
Completed in 1974, Grenfell Tower was owned by the local authority of one of London’s richest boroughs, Kensington and Chelsea.
It was refurbished between 2012 and 2016, and fire safety experts have told the inquiry that several aspects of those recent works had made the tower unsafe.
In particular, the building was enveloped in a combustible cladding which ignited, sending flames racing to the top of the building in minutes.
The blaze, which is also subject to a separate criminal investigation, highlighted the area’s extreme disparities in living conditions between rich and poor, with allegations that the cladding had been added purely to improve its visual impact.