A Grenfell Tower survivor whose wife is considered the 72nd victim of the fire has claimed authorities missed vital warning signs about her deteriorating health.
Nicholas Burton, 50, mourned the loss of his wife of more than 30 years, Maria del Pilar Burton, seven months after they were rescued from their 19th floor flat in the west London block.
The former catering manager, who was a leaseholder in the building, said the displacement caused his 74-year-old partner, a dementia sufferer known as Pily, great distress and confusion.
She suffered a stroke at a care home in the first few days of 2018 and never recovered, dying on January 29.
In his first detailed interview since her death, Mr Burton claimed his wife “passed because of the failing of the system”, adding: “She didn’t pass because it was her time.”
He described Pily as Grenfell’s 72nd victim because the couple were “never reunited” after they escaped the inferno.
Mr Burton told the Press Association: “It’s now five months since my wife passed on and I’m still waiting for answers from the people I’ve asked these questions of, nothing has come from that.”
The widower stressed Pily’s death was not the “fault” of the care home, instead expressing frustration at the doctors and mental health services who assessed her.
He continued: “With all the problems I was highlighting to them, they, the powers-that-be, didn’t act on it.
“I could see exactly what was happening but their protocol was ‘we know best’, even though I had seen that every day she was falling over, every day she was having a different problem, every day she was distraught, every day she was having a different breakdown, every day she doesn’t know where is on the street and every night I’m having to deal with my wife. But no action. I sit down with them – ‘we know best, don’t worry’.”
He declined to give precise details about the failings in the care of his wife.
The path to Pily becoming known as the 72nd victim of the Grenfell Tower fire, a title now acknowledged by the inquiry into the blaze, progressed gradually following her death.
Last month, Mr Burton gave a moving tribute to her at the probe’s commemoration hearings, alongside relatives for dozens of other victims.
“I said she was like 71-plus-one, because it is hard to encroach on the bereaved families and add somebody on,” he said.
“The bereaved families took it upon themselves to support me, saying ‘Nick, you’re one of us’, and the inquiry understood that, Pily is part of the Grenfell tragedy.
“My wife never came out and we were never reunited from the day she went into hospital.
“She never came out and into my care or anything else, she went from one hospital to another hospital to a care home.
“She didn’t have her own life and because of the failings of the system again, that was why she passed.
“She didn’t pass because it was her time. She passed because of the failing of the system, their inaction to support and look after and make a plan.”
Despite her age and her fragile state of mind, the fire played a crucial part in Pily’s decline, her husband continued.
He said: “Mental health maybe would have gone in time as a progressive thing, but she didn’t have the trauma of the loss of our neighbours, our dog, her home since the mid-70s, the loss of her parents again, we had their ashes in the wardrobe.”
Spanish-born Pily went into intensive care following the stroke on January 4 and was moved to a palliative care unit, where her husband slept at her side on a mattress for nearly two weeks.
Reflecting on the fortnight he spent at her side, Mr Burton said: “It was stressful. Stressful seeing the person that you love in this life to go. It was difficult trying to do stuff. I couldn’t focus on anything.”
Like many other families bereaved or made homeless by the inferno on June 14 last year, Mr Burton has since returned to see the wreckage of his flat.
All of the walls in their flat had been eviscerated by the fire.
He was joined by Pily’s son for a brief moment of “reflection”, before laying roses in neighbouring flats. Eight people who lived on or were visiting the 19th floor died that night.
One year on from the moment he lost everything, Mr Burton now lives in a new home – a ground floor flat with two bedrooms in Notting Dale.
“Loss is massive,” he said.
“It is not an easy thing to be married for 33-34 years and suddenly be alone.
“I’ve just got to come to a realisation about what has happened to me, but I’m not in that space yet to accept what happened, that’s why I’m keeping busy.”
Mr Burton is an active member of the main group for survivors and bereaved families, Grenfell United.
He has also met Prime Minister Theresa May on numerous occasions.
Reflecting on his time with Pily, he said: “We laughed, we had the same sense of humour. We had a pact between us, it was us against the world.
“Everywhere we would go we would always hold hands.
“Most people don’t last that long, I have been truly blessed to know someone like my wife.“