Leeds & West Yorkshire

New Bradford City fire claims 'nonsense', says ex judge

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 at Bradford City

The judge who led the inquiry into the Bradford City football stadium fire has said claims it may have been started deliberately are "nonsense".

A new book claims the 1985 blaze was just one of at least nine fires at businesses owned or associated with the then chairman Stafford Heginbotham.

Sir Oliver Popplewell has stood by his verdict the fire, which killed 56 people, was an accident.

He said police should look at the other fires to see if they were "sinister".

The book's author Martin Fletcher lost three generations of his family in the fire.

Mr Fletcher, who was 12 at the time of the blaze, escaped from the stand at Valley Parade, but his father, uncle, grandfather and younger brother all died.

He claims to have uncovered evidence Mr Heginbotham was in dire financial trouble at the time.

Speaking to BBC Radio Leeds, Sir Oliver said: "I'm sorry to spoil what is obviously a very good story, I'm afraid is nonsense for many reasons."

Image caption An inquiry ruled the fire was started by a dropped cigarette

The retired judge said the main flaw in the argument that the fire was arson was the stand involved had no insurance value because it was due for demolition.

He said the fire was examined by experienced and thorough investigators who found nothing suspicious. And he said no question of arson was ever raised in civil legal proceedings.

The Popplewell inquiry, held three weeks after the disaster, ruled the fire was started by a spectator dropping a cigarette which ignited into rubbish that had accumulated under an old timber stand.

Mr Fletcher, whose book is being serialised by the Guardian, said the inquiry did not look at the finances of Mr Heginbotham, who died in 1995.

The book does not make any direct allegations but Mr Fletcher says the chairman's history with fires, which he claims resulted in payouts totalling about £27m in today's terms, warranted further investigation.

Sir Oliver said although he could understand previous fires raising suspicions, the inquiry was conducted "perfectly properly".

Image caption This year marks the 30th anniversary of the fire

However, he said the police should investigate the cause of the other fires allegedly connected to Mr Heginbotham.

Sir Oliver said: "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."

Det Supt Mark Ridley, of West Yorkshire Police's Homicide and Major Enquiry Team, said: "Should any evidence come to light which was not available to Her Majesty's Coroner at the original inquest, then we will consider its significance and take appropriate action."

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