Theresa May considering independent review into Bradford City fire as West Yorkshire police refers itself to the IPCC over the disaster

The Home Secretary has revealed that she is consulting with Government Ministers in relation to a request for an independent review, similar to the Hillsborough Independent Panel, to consider all the available evidence into the Bradford City fire, which killed 56 people in May 1985.

Theresa May was responding to a letter from lawyers at Leigh Day on behalf of Martin Fletcher, 42, who lost his father, brother, uncle and grandfather in the fire at Bradford City’s Valley Parade football ground in 1985.

The West Yorkshire Police, Bradford District Chief Superintendent Simon Atkin has also voluntarily referred his force to the IPCC after viewing the letter sent to the Home Secretary.

The letter, sent to the Home Secretary in September 2015, urged the Government to establish an independent review so that the full details of the fire could be known to the people of Bradford, especially those who lost loved ones.

Mr Fletcher’s case is being supported by Naz Shah the MP for Bradford West who has met with Martin and his lawyers from Leigh Day and has urged the Government to look into the possibility of an independent review into the fire.

Mr Fletcher is the author of the book ‘56 – The Story of the Bradford Fire’, short listed for William Hill Sports Book of the Year.

The original inquiry into the disaster was announced just two days after the fire on 13th May 1985 by the then Home Secretary Leon Brittan.

In his book Mr Fletcher claims material evidence was never disclosed to the inquiry for its consideration, or mentioned in the police investigation file into the fire.

The original inquiry opened on the 5 June 1985, just over 3 weeks after the disaster. It was led by Sir Oliver Popplewell, a High Court Judge who had never been to a football match before the disaster.

The inquiry heard evidence over 5 ½ days and ended on 12 June. The investigation into the events of the day, including the actions of the West Yorkshire Police Force, was carried out by the West Yorkshire Police Force - there was no involvement of, or investigation by, an independent police force.

According to Leigh Day, the inquiry did not hear evidence that over an 18-year period there had been at least eight other fires at businesses or in premises owned or connected to Mr Stafford Heginbotham, the Chairman of Bradford City at the time of the fire.

These fires resulted in millions of pounds in insurance being paid out in today’s terms. The letter to the Home Secretary also raises concerns regarding the doors at the back of the ground which the 1985 inquiry heard would normally have been locked, but which were unlocked according to witnesses at the inquiry.

It asks why the West Yorkshire Police failed to arrange for a suitable independent police force to undertake the investigation into the fire.

As police actions ordered the evacuation of G Block, where the fire started, into the stand’s rear corridor, where most people died, senior officers failed to launch a pitch evacuation until three minutes into the fire, the fire brigade who were stationed just three and half minutes away from the ground did not arrive until nine minutes into the fire and the club’s police liaison officers failed to ensure the club complied with any safety recommendations as they were voluntarily meant to.

The behaviour of Leon Brittan, as Home Secretary is also highlighted for commencing the inquiry with such speed.

Richard Stein from law firm Leigh Day who is representing Mr Fletcher, said: “What we are asking the Home Secretary for is an independent review of the evidence which we believe will be the first full investigation into why 56 people died at a football match in the UK.

“Whilst these events took place 30 or more years ago we believe it requires a robust, comprehensive and impartial investigation which has never taken place despite this huge loss of life.

“Questions must also be asked of the Home Office and the repeated failure of the Conservative government, at that time, to adequately implement legislation which we believe would have saved the lives of everyone in that stand.

“Should the Home Secretary not agree to the independent review we will then be considering the options open to us in the High Court to challenge that decision, and enable the many people who lost loved ones in the Bradford Fire to find out how and why those lives were lost.”

Martin Fletcher who escaped injured that day only to later learn his family had suffered a greater loss than any family in any British football disaster said:

“I strongly welcome the news and applaud the actions of West Yorkshire police in the way they are now dealing with this incident.

“On 11 May 1985 I personally shared an ambulance with a dozen injured police officers who embodied the unbelievable courage with which many in the force acted that day.

“Thirty years on I personally feel the current hierarchy in this marked shift of approach are acting with a similar courage in choosing to address any considerations that were not given the attention they should have been in relation to the investigation of that day

“Hopefully the Government and the Police can help us to all move constructively towards finding those answers that we owe the 56 who died, their families and all those affected by that day.”