Police must relaunch Bradford City fire probe says Hillsborough campaigner

Bradford City Football Club Fire Disaster 11 May 1985
Bradford City Football Club Fire Disaster 11 May 1985
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Andy Burnham has added his weight to calls for a fresh investigation into the 1985 Bradford City stadium fire which killed 56 people.

The shadow health secretary, who has also been one of the high profile campaigners for justice over the Hillsborough tragedy, called on the police to “re-examine the quality” of the original investigation into the blaze at Bradford’s Valley Parade stadium.

Original inquiry judge Sir Oliver Popplewell ruled it was an accident but a new book by Martin Fletcher, whose father, brother, uncle and grandfather died in the fire, has said it was one of nine that occurred at businesses owned or linked to the club’s then chairman Stafford Heginbotham.

Mr Burnham said: “These are allegations of the most serious kind, and if a bereaved family member feels that they need to be investigated then they should be.

“I have always felt that the original Popplewell inquiry was conducted with undue haste, and there is a concern that these matters were not thoroughly looked into at the time.

“I would call on the police to re-examine the quality of the original investigation into the fire at Bradford City, and in the light of this new information, consider whether a new investigation should be reopened.”

However, a senior detective involved in the investigation today branded as “scurrilous” any suggestion that the fire was deliberate.

Ray Falconer, a retired detective inspector who served with West Yorkshire’s Major Crime Unit at the time of the 1985 disaster, told the Telegraph & Argus: “We were fully aware that Mr Heginbotham had a ‘history’ in relation to his businesses, and it was one of the aspects of the investigation. But the cause of the fire was unequivocally accidental. There is no doubt it was caused by a discarded cigarette. Any suggestion or insinuation to the contrary is scurrilous.

“It is an absolute travesty to suggest that the fire was deliberate because of Mr Heginbotham’s unfortunate history with his own businesses.”

Sir Oliver’s inquiry concluded the blaze was an accident, probably started by a spectator dropping a cigarette into rubbish that had accumulated under an old timber stand. He stands by that ruling, saying there was no evidence of arson.

The former High Court judge said: “I don’t think it’s going to affect what we decided but I think it is important from a public point of view that the police look at the other fires and see if there was anything sinister. It is a remarkable number.

“I think it’s important to satisfy people’s minds that the other fires are unconnected.”

The new claims are contained in the book Fifty-Six - The Story Of The Bradford Fire. Mr Fletcher, who was 12 at the time escaped from the blaze but lost three generations of his family.

His 11-year-old brother was the fire’s youngest victim while his father John, 34, uncle Peter, 32, and grandfather Eddie, 63, also died.

The book,does not make any direct allegations but Mr Fletcher says Mr Heginbotham’s history with fires, which he claims resulted in payouts totalling around £27 million in today’s terms, warranted further investigation.

The links to the other fires were reported at the time but never gained widespread exposure.

Mr Heginbotham died in 1995.

Mr Heginbotham’s son James, 47, has dismissed the claims as “just absolutely ridiculous”.

He said: “He never recovered from the fire. The stress of it is what killed him eventually.”

West Yorkshire police have said the force would consider any new evidence concerning the fire while Patsy Hollinger, the secretary of the Bradford City supporters’ club at the time of the fire, called on the people of the city to demand a full inquiry.

Mr Fletcher is the only survivor publicly to challenge the official inquiry. He describes it as inadequate and says it took place far too close to the event.