The blaze at a Shoreditch nightclub that caused up to £40 million of damage was today traced back to a lit candle and a lovers’ kiss.
The fire in March swept through the Sosho nightclub and its neighbouring private members’ club, The East Room, and devastated other buildings. It took 100 firefighters and 20 fire engines to tackle the blaze, which by 5am had become an inferno, taking over four floors, sending smoke billowing into the sky and bringing City Road to a standstill. Luckily, no one was hurt.
Club owner, entrepreneur Jonathan Downey, today blamed the fire on an Ikea tea-light that had not been extinguished by the time the club closed at 2am. He told reporters: “The waitress was going round lighting the candles at 6pm and a couple in one of the booths were having a snog, so she did the right thing and left them to it. She came back half an hour later, put the light on the table and lit it.” The candles should have burned out by closing time, he explained, but the delay meant that this flame was still burning half an hour afterwards. Because the tea-lights always burn out harmlessly, no-one had checked before locking up.
After watching CCTV footage with police and the fire brigade, Mr Downey suggested that something had then fallen into the flame, which was encased in an 18-inch high, thick Perspex vase. “We saw the staff going round putting them out but there must have been something left burning in that one. It might have been a bit of old wax or paper, we’ll never know, but it was something combustible…the flame just gets bigger and bigger.” He told East London Lines that the fire brigade, who had watched the footage with him agreed that, although the camera was on night-vision and it was hard to make out the scene precisely, you could see the flame growing before it suddenly flared up into a proper fire, licking up the wall of the vase “as if someone had poured petrol on it”. Even the fire officials with him could not say exactly why and the assumption is something, perhaps a chewing gum wrapper, had been dropped into the vase earlier. From there, the flames just spread.
Mr Downey, who owns a number of other London clubs, inclding Clerkenwell bars Giant Robot and Red Hook, is now involved in a wrangle with his insurance company over the multi-million pound costs of the fire. He said: “Even though the cause of the fire is clear, even though it’s on CCTV and even though it’s exactly what you have insurance for, they’re refusing to pay it at the moment”.
A spokesman for Royal Sun Alliance told The Evening Standard, “Based on the information given to us so far, we do not believe there was insurance cover in place”. In response, Mr Downey told East London Lines: “They’re completely wrong. Their default position is to deny liability, especially when there’s this much money involved. They wouldn’t be quibbling if it was just a few thousand pounds at stake”.