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Police say they will consider new evidence into fire at soccer stadium in 1985 that killed 56

BRADFORD, England — The circumstances surrounding one of England’s worst sporting disasters could be re-examined following allegations that the fire at a soccer stadium which killed 56 people in 1985 may have been started deliberately.

A newly published book, written by a man who escaped the blaze at Bradford City’s Valley Parade stadium, says it was one of nine fires at businesses owned by or associated with the club’s then-chairman.

The jury at an inquest into the Valley Parade tragedy found that the fire was probably accidental, caused by a cigarette that was dropped through a gap in the floorboards of the wooden stand and landed on litter below.

“Should any evidence come to light which was not available to Her Majesty’s Coroner at the original inquest, then we will consider its significance and take appropriate action,” West Yorkshire Police detective superintendent Mark Ridley said Thursday in a statement.

The judge who conducted the inquest three weeks after the fire said Thursday the number of blazes linked to Stafford Heginbotham, who died in 1995, was “remarkable” and has called for police to look to reopen their inquiries, even though he stands by his original ruling.

“I don’t think it’s going to affect what we decided but I think it is important from a public point of view that the police look at the other fires and see if there was anything sinister,” Oliver Popplewell told Sky News. “I think it’s important to satisfy people’s minds that the other fires are unconnected.”

The British politician who was one of the leading campaigners for justice from the Hillsborough Stadium disaster in 1989, when 96 Liverpool fans were crushed to death during an FA Cup semifinal match, has also called for a new investigation.

“These are allegations of the most serious kind, and if a bereaved family member feels that they need to be investigated then they should be,” Andy Burnham of the Labour party told The Guardian newspaper. “I have always felt that the original Popplewell inquiry was conducted with undue haste, and there is a concern that these matters were not thoroughly looked into at the time.”

Authorities initially characterized the Hillsborough disaster as a result of hooliganism but the original accidental death verdicts were overturned after years of campaigning by the victims’ families, with documents showing a coverup by police. New inquests into the fatalities are currently being held.

Martin Fletcher, the author of “Fifty-Six — The Story Of The Bradford Fire,” lost his brother, father, uncle and grandfather in the fire. He has spent the last 15 years investigating what happened.

Fletcher claims in the book that there were eight fires at business premises owned by or connected to Heginbotham in the 18 years before the Bradford City tragedy. According to Fletcher, the Valley Parade fire came at a time when Heginbotham was in financial trouble and he had learned two days before the fire that it would cost 2 million pounds to bring the ground up to safety standards required by Bradford’s promotion from the third tier that season.

“Could any man really be as unlucky as Heginbotham had been?” Fletcher asks in the book.

Bradford co-chairman Mark Lawn said he finds it hard to believe that the fire was started on purpose.

“I feel for the person who has written this book as he has lost his whole family in the fire,” Lawn said, “but I’m not sure you can start blaming someone who is dead without having proof.”

The 30th anniversary of the fire is on May 11. There will be a minute’s silence before all English league matches on the weekend of April 25-26 — coinciding with Bradford’s last home game of the season — to mark the anniversary.

The Associated Press

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