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bradford city fire

11 May 1985 was one of the most unpropitious days in the history of Bradford and an unforgettable day for the Bradford City Football club fans in particular and for the people of Bradford district in general.

It was a day which might have been a day of celebration for Bradford city fans as it was expected for Bradford City to be promoted to the first division of the football league. Instead it turned out to be a day of grief and mournfulness for many families who lost their near and dear ones as a result of the worst ever fire in the history of British football. It occurred during a league match in the presence of more than 11000 spectators. The match was being played between Bradford city and Lincoln city when at 3.00pm a small fire was noticed three rows from the back of Block G. Due to the wooden structure, the blaze quickly spread engulfing most part of the stadium. The spectators did not have much time to escape and a few of them were trapped in the burning fire. As a result, 56 people lost their lives and about 270 were seriously injured.

The news of this colossal tragedy sent shock waves through the length and width of the United Kingdom. In no time, the sympathy calls and letters from all parts of the country as well as from abroad began to pour in the office of the Chief Executive of Bradford Council.

1273570360_882I heard the devastating news at about 3.30pm and drove straight to the Valley Parade ground but was unable to gain access to nearby streets of the stadium as there were a large number of emergency services’ personnel who were busily enganged in extinguishing the fire and transporting the injured to local hospitals. However I was able to see the clouds of smoke and the vehicles of fire brigades from the top of Manningham Lane.

Since I was an elected member of the Council and was going to be installed as the Lord Mayor of the city ten days later on 21st May, my first priority was to ensure that every possible support was readily available within the Council’s departments for the families of the victims. In this regard I found the then Chief Executive, Mr Gordon Moor, extremely helpful and sincere and highly professional in leading the Council so successfully at this critical time. Two days after the disaster a charitable trust was established by the Council to support the families of the victims and those who were injured and were receiving treatment in the burns unit of a hospital in Wakefield.

On assuming the office of Lord Mayor on 21st of May, my first two weeks were devoted, in the main, to deal with some post shocks of the tragedy. I attended many of the church services held for the deceased. At one particular service when three bodies of teenage members of a family were in the church, the affliction of the catastrophe was so obvious, intense and visible that disturbed me and my wife to the extent that we had to reflect and cancel our next engagements for the day.

The incident at Valley Parade was of such grave concerns to the Government, the Home Secretary decided to appoint the Inquiry Commission headed by Mr Justice Popplewell to look into the question of future safeguards of football grounds in the whole of the country with a particular reference to the Bradford fire disaster. The findings of the Inquiry Commission recommended the introduction of new legislation to improve safety at our football grounds prohibiting wooden structure together with other fireproof measures.

Three decades may seem to be a long time to continue our reflections on the incident, but the pain and agony still continues to dwell in the minds and hearts of those Bradfordians who lost their sons, brothers, husbands and fathers and grandfathers.

The author is the former Lord Mayor of Bradford, Mr Mohammed Ajeeb, CBE


Bradford – Monday, May 11 marks the 30th anniversary of the Bradford City AFC fire disaster at Valley Parade.

The Lord Mayor of Bradford Coun Mike Gibbons will attend the memorial service on Monday, 11 May to remember the 56 people who died the disaster in 1985.

Lord Mayor 2014 Cllr GibbonsThe Lincoln Mayor and Mayoress, Coun Brent Charlesworth and Coun Kathleen Brothwell, will represent the city of Lincoln at the event. Bradford City were playing Lincoln City in their last home match of the season in 1985 when the fire ripped through the ground killing 54 Bradford City fans, two Lincoln City fans and injuring many more.

The service which starts at 11am will be conducted by the chaplain to Bradford City AFC, the Revd Andy Grieff and the Lord Mayor’s chaplain Revd Canon Philip Gray supported by the Rt Revd Dr Toby Howarth, Area Bishop for Bradford in the Diocese of West Yorkshire and the Dales. The event, which is attended by the relatives and friends of those who lost their lives or were injured, as well as local people, takes place at the memorial sculpture in Centenary Square.

images0CQKALWMAs part of the commemoration, the bells of the City Hall clock will toll once for each person who lost their life in the tragedy and their names will also be read out. Reading out the names will be John Helm, who commentated on the match 30 years ago, Shaun Harvey, the chief executive of The Football League, Phil Parkinson, the manager Bradford City AFC and Stephen Darby the captain of Bradford City AFC.

There will be a minute silence will be followed by ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ played by The City of Bradford Brass Band and sung by Opera North soprano, Victoria Sharp.

The Lord Mayor of Bradford will lead a wreath laying ceremony by laying a wreath on behalf of the city and the district. Wreaths laid by the Mayor and the Sheriff of Lincoln and the Oberbürgermeister of Hamm will follow this. Bereaved families will then lay their tributes and a Bradford City AFC representative and officers from the emergency services will also lay wreaths. Once these wreaths have been laid, others who wish to lay their own wreaths or floral tributes are welcome to do so.

Following the laying of floral tributes The City of Bradford Brass Band will accompany the singing of ‘Abide with Me’.

Fire engines will be parked on Centenary Square for the duration of the service and before it a garland of flowers will be placed on the “Memorial Bell” at the top of the civic staircase in City Hall. The bell was donated to the city by the fire service as it came from the first fire engine to arrive on the scene on the 11 May 1985.

The Lord Mayor, Coun Mike Gibbons, said: “The Bradford City fire lives long in the memories of the people of Bradford. I feel it is very important that we as a city take time each year on May 11, to remember those who lost their lives or were injured by this tragic event, which continues to touch the lives of so many in our district.”

Bradford – The questions raised in a new book about the Bradford fire must be answered and the only way to do that is through a new inquiry, George Galloway said today.

“We’re in an election period and I am acutely aware that accusations of seeking advantage can be raised so I am calling on all candidates, present and former councillors and Members of Parliament, fans groups and fans, anyone who has an interest to come together to agree that the issues raised must be answered,” he said, “and the only way to do that is through a new inquiry, perhaps through a judicial review. The initial inquiry was cursory to say the least and while I am not pre-judging its conclusions the recent comments by the man who led the inquiry, Sir Oliver Popplewell, leave me with deep anxiety.”

Bradford City Football Club Fire Disaster 11 May 1985 Fifty six people dieGalloway said that he had not wished to become involved while the election was running but that Popplewell’s comments to the BBC Today programme had led him to conclude that the only way to answer doubts was to review the evidence. “Sir Oliver said that these doubts were nonsense, which is an extraordinary statement to make. He then said that Stafford Hegginbotham, the club owner, who, it’s implied in the book might have been responsible for arson, had absolutely no motive because the stand was about to be knocked down and had no insurance value. Well, it appears that this is nonsense and that Hegginbotham, or the club, did receive £500,000 in an insurance payout and a further £375,000 in grants. If he did get that wrong what else did he get wrong?”

George Galloway
George Galloway

The Bradford West MP continued: “I cannot imagine the hurt that Martin Fletcher, the author of the book, and the families of the 56 who died went through and I appreciate that having this raised again after almost 30 years is deeply, deeply traumatic. Clearly the publishers and the Guardian newspaper, who are serialising it, are using the anniversary peg to market and sell the book and make capital, which is distasteful. But Fletcher has uncovered a history, a litany of similar fires, eight of them, and insurance payouts, a quite unbelievable concatenation of coincidence, which must raise the suspicion of arson and whether this tragedy was another one. Hegginbotham is not here to answer. I would hope that his family, painful as it might be, would welcome a new inquiry which could answer these suspicions.”

Galloway pointed out that the original inquiry lasted only five days, and was in linked with the death of a Leeds’ fan. “Hardly exhaustive,” he said. “And the behaviour of the police force next door over the Hillsborough disaster certainly raises questions about whether the police here properly examined the evidence. This has to be put to rest, for the victims, their families and everyone who is now under a cloud as a result of Fletcher’s revelations. I hope that we can unite and an inquiry is the only was to do so.”