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1985: 'I've never felt heat so intense'

Simon Spendelow was a 20-year-old police constable on duty at the time of the Bradford Stadium fire.

He rescued a middle-aged husband and wife from the inferno. The husband recovered but the wife died later in hospital.

This is his personal account of the tragedy he witnessed.

At the match I was stationed diagonally opposite to where the fire started.


" When the news came over the radio that there was a fire under the stand, at first it was treated as a joke "

I was quite pleased, as it was a lovely day and the crowd were in a very good mood. There was definitely a buzz about the place.

I had been at the ground for a while when I met up with a very good friend of mine who was also on duty at the match. We stood together under the floodlight pylon, and the mood was really good.

When the news came over the radio that there was a fire under the stand, at first it was treated as a joke, something funny, because that was the part of the ground where the "Bradford Ointment" football hooligans used to congregate.

We thought it would be funny for them to be inconvenienced by having to move aside whilst the fire was tackled.

It seemed to go on for a few minutes, officers talking on the radio, requesting fire fighting equipment, then the fire brigade.

Some police officers were moved to assist in moving the crowd, but not us.

After maybe ten minutes the fire just seemed to roar out of control and was clearly visible from every part of the ground.

The match was stopped, and the crowd in our area surged forwards, running onto the pitch towards the fire.

We had to move forwards to try and get them back but we didn't have to try for very long, as the fire rapidly became an awesome inferno, rushing across the roof of the stand.

The people on the pitch didn't need our bidding to move away - the heat was incredible. I've never before or since felt heat so intense.


" They were lying next to each other on the pitch, holding hands "

It was obvious now that people in the stand would be in serious danger, and we tried to go forwards to help get them out, but the heat was just too much.

I managed to get one older man and drag him forwards, away from the fire, and lay him on the floor trying to shield him from the heat.

He was badly burned, but through his suffering, he was more bothered about where his wife was.

Somehow, and I'll never know how, I managed to locate his wife who was also very badly burned, and got them together so that they were lying next to each other on the pitch, holding hands.

When the ambulances finally arrived, ages later, we used my raincoat as an improvised stretcher to carry them both to an ambulance.

We got them both into the same ambulance, and they held hands across the aisle of the ambulance all the way to the Bradford Royal Infirmary.

I have never heard an ambulance man swear so much as during that journey from the ground to the hospital - the traffic was horrendous, but somehow we made it.

After delivering our patients, we were taken back to the ground, to wait for who knows what. We ended up sat on the pitch in little groups, relating to our police stations so that they could work out which police officers were missing or injured.

It seems incredible now, but initially we were under the impression that nobody had been killed on the day. We thought that everybody had got out.

After a while however, the news went round, and our mood plunged into a deep depression.

At home, my wife was waiting for me to come home, and I just didn't.

She was out of her mind with worry, and ringing the police to ask where I was just didn't work as the phone system was overwhelmed.

After the fire, we left the ground via Manningham Lane, passing the lines of police vans that had been parked at the back of the stand during the match.

I'll never forget the vehicles - the intense heat had incinerated the sides nearest the ground, melting all the plastic fittings, the plastic windows and tyres. A stark image.

I went to the burns unit at Pinderfields Hospital a few weeks after the fire to see the man that I had dragged out and got into the ambulance with his wife.

He was doing as well as could be expected, but his wife was still very poorly. She eventually lost her fight for life, being the last person to perish as far as I am aware.

In Context
Altogether 56 people died after the Bradford stadium disaster.

Simon Spendelow joined the police force as a cadet in 1982.

In 2005 he was still working as a police officer for West Yorkshire Police as a domestic violence co-ordinator.


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