Bradford City stadium fire: Ex-club owner accused

FORMER sports minister Gerry Sutcliffe says new allegations surrounding the Bradford City fire in 1985 which claimed 56 lives do not justify a new inquiry in to the disaster.

Former Bradford chairman Stafford Heginbotham wanders around the club's ground after a fire that killed 56 supporters in 1985. Picture: Ross Parry/SWNS
Former Bradford chairman Stafford Heginbotham wanders around the club's ground after a fire that killed 56 supporters in 1985. Picture: Ross Parry/SWNS

A new book claims that the fire at Valley Parade was just one of at least nine fires at businesses owned by or associated with the club’s then chairman Stafford Heginbotham, who died in 1995.

Mr Sutcliffe, MP for Bradford South and deputy leader of Bradford City council at the time of the tragedy, says he knew Heginbotham “flew by the seat of his pants” in terms of the finances of the club but remains convinced by the conclusion of the inquiry by high court judge Mr Justice Popplewell that the fire was an accident.

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The judge ruled the fire was started by a spectator dropping a cigarette in to the rubbish that had accumulated under an old timber stand.

Mr Sutcliffe said: “The inquiry by Mr Justice Popplewell 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 that was not the case.

“Stafford Heginbotham was one of those football club chairmen of which there were many at the time who flew by the seat of his pants. I was deputy leader of the city council at the time and he did fly by the seat of his pants when it came to paying the bill for the police and so on.

“But I think the 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.

“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.”

The new claims are contained in the book Fifty-Six - The Story of the Bradford Fire, by Martin Fletcher, who was 12 at the time and escaped with his life from the blaze but lost three generations of his family including his father and brother.

The book, published on Thursday and being serialised in The Guardian, does not make any direct allegations but Fletcher says Heginbotham’s history with fires, which he claims resulted in payouts totalling around £27 million in today’s terms, warranted further investigation.

“Could any man really be as unlucky as Heginbotham had been?” he asks.

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