Deptford Fire Kills 13
The fire at 439 New Cross Road in Deptford in the early hours of January 18 1981 killed 13 young black men and women attending a joint birthday party. The death toll was horrific, so many young lives ended in the flames and smoke; but more insidiously disturbing was the seeming indifference of the public to the incident, and the perceived lack of energy behind official investigations into the cause.
Noise levels at the party had annoyed some neighbours, and the police had been called to the property in connection with those complaints. Rumours and allegations spread about the fire: it had been in revenge for the disturbance to the neighbourhood; people excluded from the celebrations had started it; it was a racist attack. The inquest criticised the police investigation, but was heavily criticised in turn, the coroner years later found by the High Court to have misled the jury in his summing-up. A second inquest, however, like the original returned an open verdict.
Nobody has ever been charged with offences relating to the fire; indeed more recent forensic investigations seemingly point towards accident rather than arson; but the relaxed reaction in many elements of the local community and the wider country at the time should still shame them today.
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