On This Day – New Cross
18th January 2011 will mark 30 years since the controversial fire that claimed many lives and left many questioning the quality of the police investigation into the deaths. There are those that say it was an accident and others, a deliberate racist attack the authorities couldn’t be bothered to investigate! The New Cross Fire was a devastating house fire which killed 13 young black people during a birthday party in New Cross, southeast London on Sunday January 18, 1981.
The black community were shocked by the indifference of the white population, and accused the London Metropolitan Police of covering up the cause, which they suspected was an arson attack motivated by racism; the protests arising out of the fire led to a mobilisation of black political activity.
The inquest into the deaths saw criticism of the police, although some witnesses admitted having lied in their statements. The coroner’s summary for the jury was heavily directed towards suggesting the fire was accidental, and the jury returned an open verdict which implied agreement. The victims’ families challenged the procedure and while the High Court agreed that the summing-up was inaccurate, it refused to overturn the verdict.
In 2002 a new action in the High Court led to an order for a second inquest, which was held in 2004. The second inquest also resulted in an open verdict, but in the intervening period more information had been discovered in police files and advances in forensic science had removed some of the uncertainty about how the fire had broken out.