New Cross fire victims remembered 30 years on

Mayor Sir Steve Bullock has promised to plant trees to remember each victim of the New Cross fire, which shocked and stunned the community in 1981.

Mayor Bullock’s decision was announced during the unveiling of a new plaque which commemorates those who died thirty years ago.

Speaking outside the house where the fire took place, he said: “If it is the wish of all the families, we will look at finding a way to plant commemorative trees. We will do everything we can.”

The Mayor was implored to make a tribute to those who died by Charlie Collins (pictured), whose son was lost in the fire. Mr Collins is well known in east London for running the famous Four Acres club in Dalston, which has now been demolished.

He previously planted commemorative trees in Dalston and New Cross, but these have now been lost. He continues to try and ensure that the tragedy is never forgotten.


Film by Adrian Pablo Trinidad

Mayor Bullock, along with MP for Lewisham Deptford Joan Ruddock, attended the event to pay their respects and to commemorate the youngsters who died.

Arguments have raged over whether the fire began because of a racist attack or not. The case has never been solved and the police have been widely criticised for their handling of the event at the time.

Tragedy struck number 439 on New Cross road during Yvonne Ruddock’s 16th (unrelated to Joan) birthday party. She and 13 friends aged between 15 and 22 lost their lives because of the blaze.

Speaking at the ceremony, Yvonne’s mother Sandra said: “I’m hoping that this plaque will be a lasting reminder for all of those people who know what happened and why.  It is also a beacon of hope to those who are struggling to find the truth.”

The ceremony was led by playwright Rex Obano. Black and minority ethnic members of the Fire Brigades Union provided an official guard of honour and marked a minute’s silence for the victims.

Also in attendance was Sybil Phoenix, the first black woman to receive an MBE. She spoke of being called to the scene the morning after the fire.

“I can never ever forget, I could never forget about going to the hospital with them and then going to the police station and collecting Mrs. Ruddock and taking her to my house,” she said.

Turning to Mr. Obano she said: “Brother, I thank you for enabling the plaque to be put up.”

Mayor of London Boris Johnson was singled out for criticism, as he was alleged not to have been aware of the details of the fire. Professor Gus John said: “One would hope that he will use his influence, especially through the schools, to tell the current generation what this meant, so that they have that historical memory and use it in the struggle we wage in relation to it to inform how they are now, and what they do now.”

A ceremony was held afterwards at Goldsmiths College to announce the winners of the New Cross Bursary Scheme: Mark Ali and Ahmed Patrick-Lalljee.

Set up in 2006 as a tribute to the young people who lost their lives in the fire, the scheme awards two young people who have been educated in Lewisham with a bursary to study at Goldsmiths.

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