Police call in watchdog over 1985 Bradford City fire

A bunch of white roses in the stand at Valley Parade on the day of the 30th anniversary of the Bradford City fire memorial service, Centenary Square, Bradford.  11 May 2015.  Picture Bruce Rollinson

A bunch of white roses in the stand at Valley Parade on the day of the 30th anniversary of the Bradford City fire memorial service, Centenary Square, Bradford. 11 May 2015. Picture Bruce Rollinson

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West Yorkshire Police has referred itself to the independent watchdog over the events of the 1985 Bradford City fire after “serious issues” were raised in a book about the tragedy.

Earlier this year, the force faced calls to “re-examine the quality” of its original investigation into the blaze at Bradford’s Valley Parade stadium, which killed 56 people.

A lone man stand at Valley Parade on the day of the 30th anniversary of the Bradford City fire memorial service, Centenary Square, Bradford.  11 May 2015.  Picture Bruce Rollinson

A lone man stand at Valley Parade on the day of the 30th anniversary of the Bradford City fire memorial service, Centenary Square, Bradford. 11 May 2015. Picture Bruce Rollinson

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

West Yorkshire Police said today that it had “voluntarily referred itself to the Independent Police Complaints Commission, in relation to matters raised in recent correspondence” about the blaze.

It said: “Serious issues have been raised, both in a book by Mr Martin Fletcher, who lost relatives in the fire, and subsequently by Mr Fletcher’s legal representatives.

“A senior officer met with them both this week, to discuss those matters in detail.

Flowers round the memrial after the 30th anniversary of the Bradford City fire memorial service, Centenary Square, Bradford.  11 May 2015.  Picture Bruce Rollinson

Flowers round the memrial after the 30th anniversary of the Bradford City fire memorial service, Centenary Square, Bradford. 11 May 2015. Picture Bruce Rollinson

“These issues relate not just to West Yorkshire Police, but to a number of other agencies and organisations.

“Since publication of Mr Fletcher’s book, West Yorkshire Police has been working to identify what material was still available from the original enquiry and has found that, despite the passage of time, a lot of material had been retained.

“West Yorkshire Police fully understands that this will bring back painful memories for people who were there or who lost loved ones 30 years ago, but it is important that the concerns raised by Mr Fletcher are addressed.

“We are awaiting a decision from the IPCC on the referral.”

Responding to the news, Bradford West MP Naz Shah said: “When I was approached by Martin to assist him in seeking answers, I could not turn away and ignore his quest for the many unanswered questions he had.

“I welcome the decision announced today by West Yorkshire Police to refer the action that was taken 30 years ago to the IPCC.

“It is only right that unanswered questions about the original investigation and process, which was conducted in great haste, are properly addressed - the victims deserve nothing less.

“The decision taken by West Yorkshire Police is a credit to modern policing that they are willing to be open and transparent.

“Bradford citizens and the supporters of the club have always carried themselves with a tremendous togetherness and have been stoic and respectful in the aftermath of a tragedy that took the lives of 56 people.

“I would ask them now to support what is the potentially the start of a longer process to find the answers long sought by many into the tragic events of that day and of the actions taken by many organisations both before and after.

“We should also be mindful of the fact that this will not be an easy process for many of the victims’ families and friends to have to deal with so many years later – their privacy must be respected.”

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 stood by that ruling, saying there was no evidence of arson.

The former High Court judge said earlier this year: “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.”

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