‘A stain on the British country’: Victims of the New Cross fire continue to seek justice

The New Cross Fire has been described as “a stain on the British country” by victims and their families yet to see justice.

Today marks 43 years since the tragedy that killed 13 young black partygoers.

Yvonne Ruddock, the birthday girl, was killed in the blaze which tore through her family home at 439 New Cross Road, on January 18, 1981.

Despite being the subject of several major exhibitions and widespread public attention, the victims of the fire and their families are still waiting to see the tragedy remembered “in the right context.”.

Lorna Tavares, now 56, was in the house on the night of the fire. She is a first cousin to the Ruddock family.

Ms Tavares described the New Cross Fire – in an interview with The Voice – as a “stain on the British country and we can’t forget.”

Looking to the future, she said the families would like to see the New Cross Fire added to the National Curriculum but is adamant it would have to be told “in the right context.”

Firemen and police in front of the flame-ravaged house in New Cross Road, Deptford, where a West Indian all-night birthday party ended in tragedy (Picture: PA)

She said: “It has to be factual and it has to be done by people who knew about the New Cross fire before it was the New Cross Fire.

“I want it to always be a legacy, it’s a horrible legacy, it’s not a nice legacy, to show how disgusting they were treated as black people, as Caribbean people, as Windrush children in this country.

“What we really want is a memorial week and if I don’t get it in my lifetime my daughter will be pushing for it.”

The Ruddock family lived in Catford before moving to 439 New Cross Road. They lived at the address for around five years before the fire.

The area was known for racist attacks and the National Front – a far-right group – had a notorious presence in the area.

At the time, there was a widely held assumption within the black community that the fire was started deliberately in a racist attack.

No one has ever been charged in connection with the New Cross Fire.

The Met was accused of lacking urgency and criticised for ruling out a racial motive. In turn, the police argued the investigation had lacked sufficient evidence and witnesses.

Survivors and family members of those lost in the New Cross house fire gather at the Civic Suite in Catford (Picture: Lewisham council)

Thousands took part in a series of demonstrations to protest against an alleged police cover-up.

Feelings of neglect and outrage within the community sparked the Black People’s Day of Action – a demonstration which saw more than 20,000 mainly black people march across London on March 2, 1981,  to protest against an alleged police cover-up.

In the coroner’s inquest doubt was cast over the integrity of the investigation and Commander Stockwell’s professionalism.

Evidence pointed to arson, but witnesses admitted making false statements to police.

The jury returned an open verdict, but the victims’ families accused the coroner of misleading the jury. The High Court agreed but ruled the verdict should stand.

In October 2002, the High Court finally agreed to hold a fresh inquest after continued lobbying from families. But the second inquest also returned an open verdict two years later.

In March 2005, families of the victims were refused leave to challenge the verdict.

Those who died in the fire were Humphrey Brown, 18, Peter Campbell, 18, Steve Collins, 17, Patrick Cummings, 16, Gerry Francis, 17, Andrew Gooding, 14, Lloyd Richard Hall, 20, Patricia Denise Johnston, 15, Rosalind Henry, 16, Glenton Powell, 15, Paul Ruddock, 22, Yvonne Ruddock, 16, Owen Thompson, 16.

Another survivor, Anthony Berbeck, died 18 months later, after taking his own life.

Lewisham council will host a memorial service today at St Andrew’s Church in Brockley.

Pictured top: New Cross Massacre Action Committee demonstrators outside County Hall, London, where an inquest into the deaths of thirteen young people in a New Cross house fire was due to begin (Picture: PA)

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