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1987: Disaster underground
Inspector Peter Power was sent to the scene of the King's Cross fire to co-ordinate the efforts of the emergency services.

He ran the Metropolitan Police's forward command post for much of the evening and most of the night on 18 November 1987.

Three years earlier he himself had been trapped underground in a serious fire at Oxford Circus Tube station in London.

I attended the police station along with a particular sergeant, who, bearing in mind it was late evening, had been enjoying himself at a dinner party.

And I remember as we were belting along the streets with blue lights flashing he turned to me and said, "Sir, I have to tell you something - I'm completely drunk."

When we eventually arrived at King's Cross there was a scene of confusion - a lot of people trying to get on with the grisly job in hand.

'Bomb explosion'

The sergeant had to start writing what was happening on the white boards: the names of the people who were in, so we had a log of things. He rapidly became sober, but he was still a bit hazy.

Everyone put it down to the fact that he was in shock, but the truth of it was he was trying to make the best of a difficult situation.

The present deputy-commissioner of the Met Police, Ian Blair, was already on scene as a detective inspector.

We knew each other very well and he turned to me and said, "Peter, I think we've had a bomb explosion here."

I asked him why and he said, "At least one of the casualties has metal deep inside him... but we're not going to go public on it."

We were aware that there were a lot of weird people who turned up at scenes like this who got in the way

My job was to try and preserve the scene, to make sure there were no other casualties and to try and make sure that the other emergency services had their own role to play.

My time was spent partly in the vehicle and partly out, but of course three years earlier, almost to the very day I had been trapped deep underground in a fire [on the Victoria Line], so my heart was very much downstairs.

But this was an event far worse than what we had in 1984.

We had a lot of people from the press turning up and they were getting in everywhere. We had bogus doctors.

One doctor turned round to one of them and said, "Are you a doctor?" and he answered, "No I'm not, I just like doing this."

We were aware that there were a lot of weird people who turned up at scenes like this who got in the way.


Then we had to decide who we were going to send down there and extract this awful mess of 30 dead people.

We had to look round for a team of police officers to do this. On that occasion it was more important that the people were a team as oppose to experts in dealing with dead bodies.

I still think to this day it must have been one of the worst jobs in the world - you couldn't prepare them.

After the event, people would be traumatised and the worse thing you do is send them home straight away.

'War stories'

There's a little pub next door to King's Cross railway station and we instructed the landlord to open up that night.

We told him we were about to send in a dozen or so police officers and that each police officer would be taken home by chauffeur-driven car after they had worked out their war stories and had a few drinks.

I assured the landlord that the commissioner for the police would pick up the tab.

I don't know whether he ever did, but we don't think that many of the officers who had that grisly job suffered as a result, because we wound them down gently.

We didn't send them straight home to have the nightmares.

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The escalator after the fire
The fire started in a machine room under a wooden escalator

Peter Power in 2003
Inspector Peter Power was responsible for co-ordinating the emergency teams
In Context
Peter Power left the police force in the early 1990s.

He is now the managing director for London-based Visor Consultants, a company specialising in crisis and emergency management.

The King's Cross fire turned out not to have been a bomb attack. A discarded match is thought to have been the probable cause.

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