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1981: Nine die in New Cross house fire
Nine people were killed and 20 injured in a blaze which engulfed a house early this morning in south London.

Police have launched a murder inquiry after survivors described how they saw a car being driven away from the incident as the fire broke out.

Commander Graham Stockwell, head of south London CID, is heading the investigation because of the "seriousness and magnitude" of the attack.

He added that police had found evidence of a liquid substance which may have assisted the spread and intensity of the fire.

Birthday party

Victims of the fire, all young black men and women, were among guests celebrating a joint birthday party for two girls in a house in New Cross Road, Deptford.

One of the birthday girls, Yvonne Ruddick, is seriously ill in hospital. Angela Jackson, who shared the party, escaped injury after she left early.

Evidence suggests the fire started on the ground floor and quickly spread. Revellers were trapped upstairs by the smoke and flames.

Nineteen year-old Walton Williams tried to drag a friend to safety through an upstairs window "but the drainpipe collapsed and the next thing I remember is lying on the pavement," he said.

Walton was taken to hospital where he learned that his friend had died.

Police believe revenge may have been the motive. Officers had been called to the house earlier in the evening after receiving complaints about noise levels.

They have suggested someone may have started the fire because they were angry about the loud music, or because they were not welcome at the party.

Miss Jackson says she and five other girls saw a white car parked outside the house which promptly drove off when the fire started.

A search is now under way to trace a white Austin Princess seen driving away from the incident.

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Emergency services outside the burnt-out house
Police are treating the fire as suspicious

Black community stunned by New Cross fire

In Context
In total 13 youngsters died in the New Cross fire including Yvonne Ruddick and her brother Paul.

Police and community relations were strained.

The Met was accused of lacking urgency and criticised for ruling out a racial motive. But it argued it had lacked sufficient evidence and witnesses.

Thousands took part in a series of demonstrations 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 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.

However, the second inquest also returned an open verdict in May 2004.

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

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