Leeds & West Yorkshire

New Bradford City fire claims 'just speculation', ex-minister says

Fire at Valley Parade and fans on the pitch Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption More than 50 people lost their lives in the 1985 fire

Claims a fire at Bradford City's stadium which killed 56 people was not an accident are just "speculation", a former sports minister has said.

In a new book, survivor Martin Fletcher claims former chairman Stafford Heginbotham netted millions of pounds from insurance payouts after fires at businesses he was associated with.

But Gerry Sutcliffe, deputy leader of Bradford City Council in 1985, said the Valley Parade fire was not deliberate.

He stood by earlier findings, he said.

Mr Fletcher, who lost three generations of his family in the blaze, claimed to have uncovered evidence Mr Heginbotham was in dire financial trouble at the time, and has called for a fresh inquiry.

He makes no direct allegation against the club's chairman in the book, which is being serialised in the Guardian, but does ask if any man could be as "unlucky" as Mr Heginbotham appeared to be.

Mr Fletcher, who was 12 at the time, lost his father, brother, uncle and grandfather in the fire.

He said the Popplewell inquiry, held three weeks afterwards, did not look at the finances of Mr Heginbotham, who died in 1995.

Image caption Mr Fletcher lost three generations of his family in the Valley Parade fire

"I feel that such information should be made public and people should look at the facts and make their mind up on those facts," he said.

Mr Sutcliffe, who later became MP for Bradford South and was sports minister in the last Labour government, said he remained convinced by the findings of the initial inquiry.

"It [the Popplewell inquiry] concluded that it was caused by a discarded cigarette in what was an old wooden stand, and I have not heard anything to convince me that was not the case," he said.

"There will always be speculation but I just think it was a tragedy that cost the lives of 56 people and injured many more, and has scarred the city for many years."

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