It was a rare moment of hope that shone through from the Grenfell Tower tragedy; the story of a baby who was dropped by its mother from the burning building and caught by a heroic bystander. The dramatic news went around the world, but an investigation by the BBC’s Newsnight programme has revealed that the event probably didn’t actually happen.
The story first appeared at 1.08pm on June 14, just hours after the terrible inferno — which is believed to have claimed 80 lives — began and while firefighters were still battling the blaze. It appeared on the Twitter feed of Ryan Hooper, a reporter for the Press Association, who posted a video interview with a woman who claimed to have seen the event.
“Neighbour Samira Lamrani describes the moment a woman dropped her baby from a window in the burning tower to waiting public below,” Mr Hooper tweeted.
A Newsnight journalist attempted to talk to Ms Lamrani about her recollections of what she saw during the early morning of June 14, but she refused to speak to them. “My memory of that night is fading … I don't want to talk about it,” she told them.
It was a similar story with another eyewitness, George Clarke, who had initially told Newsnight on June 14 that he had seen a man catch “a kid” thrown from the eighth floor. When the BBC team tried to speak to him again he said that he didn’t want to revisit the event. “It’s such a contentious issue and I think it’s so hurtful to so many people.”
Indeed, almost all of the people that Newsnight was able to track down who had been reported as having seen the baby thrown from the building, none would go on camera and repeat their previous claims; some said that they had been misquoted, and some who had been named in reports appeared not to have even existed in the first place.
The closest that they came to uncovering the truth came from a local resident who had a novel theory about how the story came to be. Jody Martin was on the scene as the first fire crews arrived at 1am.
“There was an African-Caribbean lady with her baby and she was leaning out the window,” he told Newsnight. “It was more like a toddler. And there was smoke just billowing out behind us, so obviously she was just trying to get oxygen. So she was at the lowest point of the ledge, you know right down low, top half of her torso hanging out, but her infant at arm’s length.”
Mr Martin believed that when people saw the woman, who was rescued by fire fighters minutes later, it looked like she was throwing the baby, and that it was perhaps that which spawned the story.