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The BBC's Toby Sealey
"There's still a suspicion that it (the fire) was started deliberately"
 real 56k

New Cross Fire Parents Commitee's George Frances
"I have every faith... we will have an answer"
 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

Sunday, 14 January, 2001, 20:38 GMT
Plea to solve 1981 blaze mystery
New Cross Fire
Fire spread through the two-storey house in New Cross
The Bishop of Southwark has urged a community to help solve the long-running mystery of a house fire which killed 14 young black people.

The Right Reverend Tom Butler made the call at a memorial service for those who died in the 1981 blaze, which swept through a house in New Cross, south-east London.

The Metropolitan Police marked this week's 20th anniversary of the tragedy by offering a 50,000 reward for evidence about the blaze's origins.
Memorial service for New Cross blaze
Candles were lit for the 14 victims on Sunday

A letter from the Prince of Wales was also read during the service, in which he expressed his "deepest sympathy" with those who had lost loved ones and offered his support to the community.

The bishop told the congregation at St Paul's Church in Deptford on Sunday: "If you haven't done so tell the story of what you know about that dreadful night 20 years ago, do it now so the dead and living can know true peace."

The fire started in the front room of a two-storey house in New Cross while more than 50 of 200 guests were trapped at a party.

Some youngsters were trapped and others jumped from upper floors to escape.

Inquiry reopened

The fire remains the Metropolitan Police's oldest "live" murder, manslaughter or arson case.

It is being investigated by a team under deputy assistant commissioner John Grieve, head of Scotland Yard's racial and violent crimes task force.

Families of those who died and survivors will remember the tragedy at a public meeting at Portcullis House, Westminster, from 1400GMT on Monday.

Scotland Yard re-opened its inquiry into the case in 1997 in the hope that new forensic techniques and fresh interviews with witnesses would solve a case that still disturbs the black community.
Fire survivor
Survivor Wayne Haynes was 17 at the time of the blaze

At the memorial service, the bishop said the Macpherson report into the death of the black teenager Stephen Lawrence and the way the Metropolitan Police dealt with the Brixton bombing by involving the community heralded a new era in relations.

"I want to see that same support and co-operation so the 20-year tragedy can be laid to rest."

Joan Ruddock, the local MP, read the letter from Prince Charles, who said: The dignity and strength shown by the New Cross families have provided over 20 years an example to us all."

'Racists' discounted

A review of the original four-and-a-half year investigation was ordered after the Stephen Lawrence case.

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.

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 and 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 is still not clear whether the fire was accidental or started deliberately, a spokesman for the Metropolitan Police said.

Reward 'encouragement'

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

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, 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.

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

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