Associated Press 13 May 1985: Smoke Bombs Thrown at Soccer Match, 53 Perish

BRADFORD, England (AP) _ Police said Monday that smoke bombs and fireworks were thrown during a soccer match Bradford City Football ClubFire Disaster 11 May 1985where a fire swiftly engulfed an old wooden grandstand and killed 53 people.

But police said it was not known whether the projectiles caused the fire Saturday that consumed the grandstand at Bradford’s Valley Parade Ground where 3,000 people were watching a soccer game.

A 75-year-old burn victim died in a hospital Monday, and three people were still listed as missing. Of the 211 people injured in the fire and the rush by spectators to escape the flame, 57 remained in the hospital and authorities said many of them had burns that will require plastic surgery.

West Yorkshire County Council, meanwhile, said it warned the Bradford City soccer club in writing 10 months ago that the 79-year-old timber grandstand was a fire hazard, but said no action was taken to correct the alleged dangerous conditions. The club’s chairman denied receiving any warning.

In Parliament, Home Secretary Leon Brittan, the Cabinet minister in charge of safety and police matters, announced a judicial inquiry into the fire, with orders to investigate fire safety and crowd-control measures at all 92 soccer stadiums in the country.

He said the inquiry, to be headed by High Court Judge Oliver Popplewell, would try to determine what caused the fire and why it spread so quickly. Witnesses said the wind-driven fire engulfed the grandstand within four minutes.

John Domaille, West Yorkshire assistant police chief, said investigators had determined that smoke bombs were thrown during Saturday’s match between Bradford City and Lincoln City.

”I know that smoke bombs are used at football (soccer) matches and that this occurred in the Bradford ground (stadium) on Saturday and on previous Saturdays,” Domaille told a news conference at Bradford police headquarters.

He said the smoke bombs included such devices as fireworks that create smoke clouds and aerosol containers. He would not say what types were used Saturday, how many were thrown and whether any were thrown directly into the main grandstand.

One witness, Ian Trueman, a reporter for the Manchester-based Daily Star newspaper, said he saw hooligans start the fire by throwing a smoke bomb into the grandstand.

”I saw the bomb’s trail of smoke,” he wrote. ”I saw it land at the exact spot where the fire exploded. … I heard fans who were even closer to the seat of the fire shouting, ‘Who threw that bloody smoke bomb?’ as they scrambled for their lives.”

While confirming that smoke bombs were thrown, Domaille said investigators still did not know what started the blaze. ”I will not speculate with regard to the cause of the fire,” he added.

Police later disclosed, however, that they were investigating a local youth gang with a reputation for causing trouble at soccer games. Press Association, the British domestic news agency, quoted unidentified shopkeepers as saying that before Saturday’s game the gang had bought greenhouse fumigators, which give off clouds of smoke.

West Yorkshire Detective Chief Supt. Kevin Cooper confirmed that members of the gang were among some 2,000 people, including burn victims, police have interviewed.

At a news conference in London, West Yorkshire County Council said it sent two letters to the Bradford City soccer club in July 1984 warning that the aging wooden grandstand was a fire hazard.

Copies of the letters, made available to reporters by the council, said the grandstand’s ”timber construction is a fire hazard and in particular there is a buildup of combustible materials in the voids beneath the seats.”

They said: ”A carelessly discarded cigarette could give rise to a fire risk.”

The grandstands’ felt roof covering and decayed boarding ”should be rectified as soon as possible,” the letters said.

Club chairman Stafford Heginbotham denied that the team received any warning from the council. ”The letter has not been received here,” he said. ”I’ve never been proud of this stadium, but that has nothing to do with firetraps.”

By virtue of finishing first in the soccer league’s Third Division, Bradford City was being promoted to the Second Division and would have had to bring safety standards in line with existing laws convering First and Second Division teams.

Among steps being taken by the government, Home Secretary Brittan said, was the extension of safety regulations for First and Second Division teams to cover the other two divisions. Previously, lower division teams were not required to comply with fire laws because they draw small crowds.

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