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The BBC's Jon Brain
"Scotland Yard...hopes the reward money will persuade someone with vital information, to come forward"
 real 56k

MP for Lewisham and Deptford, Joan Ruddock
"It's been possible for the police to do a reinvestigation to get very close to the truth"
 real 56k

Saturday, 13 January, 2001, 08:42 GMT
50,000 reward offer in arson inquiry
Relatives and action committee members outside the inquest in 1981
Some relatives outside the inquest in 1981
The Metropolitan Police are offering a 50,000 reward for evidence about the death of 14 young black people in a house fire two decades ago.

The announcement of the reward, which is the force's biggest ever, comes six days before the 20th anniversary of the fire in New Cross, south-east London.

More than 50 of the 200 guests were still at the party when the blaze, which started in the front room of the two-storey house in New Cross Road, took hold.


The pain, distress and anger of survivors and the families of the dead were never publicly acknowledged - no one was arrested and an ineffective coroner's inquiry recorded an open verdict

Joan Ruddock
Lewisham and Deptford MP
Some youngsters were trapped and others jumped from upper floors to escape.

A team under Deputy Assistant Commissioner John Grieve, head of the Yard's Racial and Violent Crimes Task Force, is investigating the fire - the force's oldest "live" murder, manslaughter or arson case.

Scotland Yard reopened its inquiry into the case in 1997 in the hope that new forensic techniques and fresh interviews with witnesses, including a number who would not talk to detectives during the original investigation, would solve a case that still disturbs the black community.

A review of the original 4-year investigation was ordered after the Stephen Lawrence case raised questions over the willingness of police to solve violent crimes with black victims.

At one stage the fire was blamed on racists but this claim was discounted by the police and some of the relatives of the dead.

Black activists also accused police of hiding behind theories that the blaze was caused by someone at the party.

Deputy Assistant Commissioner John Grieve
Deputy Assistant Commissioner John Grieve has team investigating
An inquest returned open verdicts in the summer of 1983 and in August 1985 the Director of Public Prosecutions announced that the file on the deaths was being closed, saying there was insufficient evidence to prosecute anyone.

Police now believe the fire started in an armchair in the living room of the house although it was still not clear whether the fire was accidental or started deliberately, a spokesman for the Metropolitan Police said.

A memorial service for the victims will be held on Sunday.

Families of those who died and survivors will remember the tragedy at a public meeting at the House of Commons on Monday.

George Francis, chairman of the New Cross Fire Parents' Committee, who lost his 17-year-old son, Gerry, in the blaze, welcomed the reward.


There were people at that party who have never come forward to speak to us - their information could prove crucial to our investigation

Detective Chief Superintendent Mike Parkes
He said: "I hope that it will encourage anyone who can help the police to establish the cause of this tragedy to contact the investigation team."

Joan Ruddock, MP for Lewisham and Deptford, who organised Monday's public meeting, said: "It was a time when the National Front was marching in south London and community relations were at an all-time low.

"The pain, distress and anger of survivors and the families of the dead were never publicly acknowledged.

"No one was arrested and an ineffective coroner's inquiry recorded an open verdict."

Detective Chief Superintendent Mike Parkes of the Racial and Violent Crimes Task Force said: "There were people at that party who have never come forward to speak to us.

"Their information could prove crucial to our investigation."

Anyone with information should call the incident room on 0207 230 4374 or Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.

The memorial service will be held at St Paul's Church, Deptford, at 1500GMT on Sunday and a public meeting will be at Portcullis House, Westminster, from 1400GMT on Monday.

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