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Last Updated: Monday, 24 January 2005, 17:27 GMT
A tale of heroism on a tragic night
By Chris Summers
BBC News Website

A landlady has been cleared of killing her two sons and another man by starting a fire in her north London pub after a late night lock-in.

The blaze, which burned down the Prince of Wales pub in Stoke Newington, will remain a mystery following Kate Knight's acquittal.

Rondrick Springer
This verdict should not in any way undermine and detract from the praise which is due to Rondrick Springer. He behaved with great valour. He acted selflessly and he gave his life to save two young girls.
Mr Justice Fulford
Trial judge

The scene had echoes of EastEnders but the tragedy which unfolded on the night of 27 July 2003 was far too horrific for any soap opera.

Mrs Knight, 32, and her husband Kevin, 46, could have passed for Den and Angie and the Prince of Wales resembled the Queen Vic.

But the undoubted hero of the drama was a pub regular, Rondrick Springer - known to his friends as Iceman - who died after rescuing two young girls.

Dorian Lovell-Pank QC, prosecuting, told the jury: "Rondrick Springer is the real hero of this whole story. He went up the stairs through the flames while the others were forced back by the heat.

"While the people were waiting outside for the fire brigade he appeared at a first-floor window with the two girls. He lowered them out of the window and then shouted 'It's too hot, I can't go back'. He fell from the window on to a bench."

Mr Springer, a 45-year-old plumber, died in hospital six weeks later of complications resulting from burns and smoke inhalation.

Kate Knight
Kate Knight was cleared of starting the fire

The judge, Mr Justice Fulford, said he gave his "wholehearted seal of approval" to the idea of Mr Springer being recommended for a posthumous award for gallantry.

He said: "That man acted with extraordinary courage and it is worthy of being recognised."

'Great valour'

"This verdict should not in any way undermine and detract from the praise which is due to Rondrick Springer. He behaved with great valour. He acted selflessly and he gave his life to save two young girls.

Charlie and Christopher Knight
Charlie (left) and Christopher were trapped upstairs

"His courage should be publicly acknowledged and his family should know his bravery has been fully acknowledged by this court."

Outside the Old Bailey Mr Springer's brother Mitchell read out a statement on Monday paying tribute to "our loved one".

But Mr Springer was unable to save Kate Knight's two sons, Charlie, four, and Christopher, 10, who were found unconscious on the upper floors of the mock-Georgian pub by firefighters around 5.30am.

Christopher was declared dead an hour later and Charlie died in hospital the following day.

The two girls Mr Springer saved, and another boy who had also been sleeping upstairs, all survived the fire with varying degrees of injury.

'Our loved one'

Mrs Knight was acquitted of three charges of manslaughter and one of arson.

The fire spread quickly to the upstairs of the pub
The fire quickly spread to the upper floors of the pub

The court heard that the seat of the fire was at the bottom of the pub's stairs but forensic scientist Iain Peck said he could not rule out the possibility that the lighter fuel and white spirit had been sprayed in through the letterbox from someone outside the pub.

Mrs Knight, who did not give evidence in court, had told police: "You have got it wrong. They were my babies."

Mrs Knight's barrister, Lauren Soertsz, had told the jury the finger of suspicion pointed away from her and towards enemies of Mr Knight.

He admitted he had been involved in the drugs trade in the past and conceded there might have been several people with enough of a grudge against him to have started the blaze.

Kevin Knight said he tried to keep his dealing from his wife, because she was worried.

Denied owing money

The jury also heard that 100 ecstasy tablets were found in the pub after the blaze.

Miss Soertsz asked Kevin Knight if he knew the Adams family, a "notorious criminal family".

She said: "Are you aware of a rumour circulating at the time that you owed the Adams's 25,000 and that the fire was their way of leaning on you?"

He replied: "No I was not I never owed them a penny."

One of the Adams brothers, Tommy, was jailed for seven years in 1998 for masterminding an 8m drugs racket in the Islington area.



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