In Depth

Bradford City fire: who says what about new claims?

A book has re-opened the debate over the Bradford fire – but a new investigation looks unlikely

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The Bradford City fire, which claimed the lives of 56 football fans in 1985, is back in the headlines after The Guardian serialised a book by one of the survivors, which links the club's then chairman to at least eight other fires at businesses he owned or had connections to.

Martin Fletcher, who lost relatives from three generations of his family in the blaze, does not believe the fire was an accident and says his family are no longer prepared to live a "myth".

The Guardian says the book contains "extraordinary evidence" that has not been published before, and "reveals there had been at least eight other fires at business premises either owned by, or connected to, Stafford Heginbotham, Bradford’s then-chairman, in the previous 18 years, resulting in huge insurance claims".

But the paper is careful to note that Fletcher "does not make any direct allegations" against Heginbotham, but believes his record with fires warrants "further investigation".

Martin Fletcher, author and survivor:

"Could any man really be as unlucky as Heginbotham had been?" writes Fletcher in Fifty-Six: The Story of the Bradford Fire. "It's also a bit of a joke that, back in 1985, nobody picked up on the fact that Heginbotham – seemingly a one-man walking nightmare for insurance companies – had already recouped nearly a million pounds (£10m in today’s terms) before his club was rewarded with the further gift of £1.46m (worth £10.25m in today’s money) by the local authority, to take his total fire proceeds from his Bradford firms to £2.74m – or £27m in today’s adjusted terms."

Fletcher adds that the Valley Parade disaster also came at a time "when the businessman was in desperate financial trouble, unable to pay his workforce beyond that month," says the Guardian.

Sir Oliver Popplewell, inquiry judge:

The judge who led the inquiry into the Bradford stadium fire has told the BBC any suggestion that the blaze may have been started deliberately was "nonsense". Popplewell's four-week investigation was held weeks after the disaster, but did not hear evidence relating to Heginbotham's finances. It concluded that the fire was started by a cigarette which ignited rubbish below the wooden stadium.

Popplewell stands by his findings of 30 years ago. "I'm sorry to spoil what is obviously a very good story, I'm afraid it's nonsense for many reasons," he told BBC Radio Leeds.

However, he said that the other fires that affected Heginbotham's businesses should be investigated. "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."

Bradford MP Gerry Sutcliffe:

The former sports minister was deputy leader of Bradford City council at the time of the disaster and although he described Stafford Heginbotham as "one of those football club chairmen... who flew by the seat of his pants" he said he did not believe a new inquiry was needed, reports the Daily Telegraph.

"I think the [Popplewell] inquiry was very thorough at the time and I don't think there needs to be another because of this. I do not believe there was any sort of cover-up and in fact the inquiry led to a lot of recommendations on stadiums that together with the Taylor report came up with the right answers for football."

West Yorkshire police:

The force in charge of policing at the ground has said it will consider any new evidence in the case, reports Sky News. In a statement West Yorkshire police said: "Should any evidence come to light which was not available to Her Majesty's Coroner at the original inquest, then we will consider it and take appropriate action."

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