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A city's memories branded in fire of killer's reign of terror 30 years ago

THEY were children when they were killed and they were buried together. Three youngsters sharing a grave and a family name overshadowed by that of the maniac who took their lives.

The Hastie brothers. Charles, Paul and Peter. Aged 15, 12 and eight. The first known victims of Yorkshire's other – and most prolific – serial killer.

Thirty years on, and the name Hastie still provokes haunted looks in some parts of the county, a shuddering jolt back to a time when Hull was caught in its own sinister web of death and destruction – by fire.

Yorkshire seemed split in two. In the west, Peter Sutcliffe was

stalking the streets and butchering women. But, in the east, a

different catalogue of killing was unfolding.

The Hasties had been dubbed a "problem" family. The father was in prison, and the four Hastie brothers and three sisters lived with their mother Edith in Selby Street, off Anlaby Road in Hull.

On the night of December 4, 1979, the sisters were staying with relatives. Edith and her four boys slept soundly upstairs, while on the street outside a figure approached in the black of night, armed with a bottle of paraffin.

Peter Dinsdale was 19 and had changed his name to Bruce Lee, in homage to the martial arts star. He was thirsting for revenge. There had been run ins between him and the Hasties for some weeks. In his mixed-up mind he felt he had been wronged, so he hurled paraffin around the

front porch and set it alight.

As he drifted away into the night, to loiter under a nearby flyover, the flames took hold. Upstairs, Charles, now the man of the house,

fought for his family's lives. He forced his mother to safety by

shoving her from an upstairs window, but in the choking smoke there was no more he could do.

He suffered appalling burns and died the next day. Paul and Peter, who shared a bedroom with him, both died in the burns unit at Pinderfields Hospital, Wakefield. Their other brother had been pulled to safety from

a back room.

The family's overwhelming grief was compounded by the seeming

indifference from many of the neighbours, who blamed the Hasties for petty crime and vendettas.

That meant the police had many suspects, and numerous teenagers came forward to be interviewed. Among them was Bruce Lee.

The son of a prostitute, he had been brought up in children's homes and his low IQ meant he was known as "daft Peter". The troubled youngster sat opposite Det Supt Ron Sagar, and told a chilling tale which left

the officer horrified.

In his book, Hull, Hell and Fire, Mr Sagar details the confessions from Lee, who admitted starting nine other fatal fires in Hull, stretching back over seven years. The fires had at the time been treated as

accidents. Lee's confessions changed all that.

One blaze, at an old people's home, had left 11 dead.

"I could hear like old blokes shouting," said Lee. "Don't ask me how I know'd they was old blokes, but they was not women and babies. I heard a man's voice shouting 'God help me'. It was bloody terrible.

"I knew...that the fire was killing people. I knew as I walked along blokes was dying in the fire. I'd killed people before in my fires so I wasn't that bothered like."

Another victim was David Brewer, 34, who died after staggering round his kitchen, engulfed in flames. Lee said he had sneaked into the house while Mr Brewer slept in a chair, poured paraffin on him and set him alight, because he had "clipped his ear". "He shouldn't have done that," he said by way of explanation.

A mother and her three young sons died after Lee squirted paraffin through their letter box using a washing-up liquid bottle.

"I had to go to the Bible after that one," said Lee.

The list went on. An elderly man burned to death in his front room. A six-year-old boy who Lee knew from school. An elderly woman who died in her bedroom – "I did see someone lying in a bed, but I didn't know if

it was a man or a woman. I didn't wake 'em up to ask, did I?"

The final death toll was 26, and Lee pleaded guilty to 26 counts of manslaughter in court in Leeds, making him for a time Britain's biggest serial killer. Even so, there was little national publicity, the case totally overshadowed by that of the Ripper.

But there were doubts over some of his confessions, particularly to the old people's home, Wensley Lodge.

Although Lee claimed convincingly that he had done it, a subsequent

appeal ruled the cause was accidental and Lee was cleared of those killings.

His final death toll was reduced to 15. He was sentenced to be detained under the Mental Health Act.

Lee claimed most of the arsons were carried out simply because he loved fire.

He didn't care whether anyone would be killed or injured.

Mr Sagar, now retired and living in West Yorkshire, said: "The whole business was so very, very sad.

"I look on it as incredible that a coroner and the police should look at this situation of fire after fire after fire and not think whether they could be arson. No one looked at it until it came to the smell of paraffin at the door when I arrived there (at the Hastie house).

"He was allowed to carry on as if he was above the law.

"He acted with impunity, even though there were often witnesses to the fires. He wasn't seen, because he was a pathetic, insignificant man.

"I remember one of his first comments at interview. He said with a touch of boastfulness, 'I killed a baby once you know'. It was a dreadful state of affairs."

Mr Sagar looks back on those wretched times with immense sadness, for the families of the victims, for the people of Hull, even for Lee himself.

"I didn't show him sympathy, but I feel sorry for him as a human being.

"Sorry that in this day and age you could have a youngster who no-one cared for, who could be in such a terrible state."

Lee may well languish behind bars for the rest of his days. Most probably hope he does. In Hull, the memories run deep.

Thirty years ago tonight, Lee stood under a bridge in Hull and watched from the darkness as the flames consumed the Hastie home.

The years roll on by. But for those who were there, who survived Lee's atrocities, the shock at his terrible deeds remains.

 
 
 

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