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Double murderer confession to his part in New Cross fire which killed 13 Black at a house party in 1981

todayNovember 2, 2021 37

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The Police chiefs have been accused of failing to fully investigate the confession of a jailed murderer who revealed how a house fire started 40 years ago, killing 13 young black partygoers.

The New Cross fire in South London in 1981 prompted a campaign for political action over allegations of a totally inadequate response from police and government.

No one has ever been tried for starting the blaze, but between 1991 and 1993 police received confessions from a jailed killer who gave the name of a suspect, and said he himself was present when it began.

Michael Smithyman, who had been jailed for killing his pregnant girlfriend, was the subject of a police report submitted to the Home Office and was reinterviewed by an elite Scotland Yard unit in 1993.

Michael Smithyman confessed to being at the scene of the party

Michael Smithyman confessed to being at the scene of the party


But the probe was shelved shortly afterwards, leaving some officers incensed by the failure to fully investigate the claim.

In addition to the tragic death toll, 27 people were injured after a fire ripped through the three-storey building during a joint 16th birthday party in the early hours of January 18, 1981.

No one has ever been charged with starting the fire which has been widely speculated as a racist attack.

New Crass Massahkah: Remembering the fire at 439 New Cross Road |  Goldsmiths, University of London


The eight-page briefing note states: ‘It is suspected that Smithyman was the other person with [name removed for legal reasons] when the fire started and it is our belief he will admit his full complicity in the matter.’

Almost all victims of the blaze on January 18, 1981, were teenagers and all were black. Twenty-seven others were seriously injured. A survivor was so horrified by what he saw that he killed himself two years later. After police failed to find the culprit, the local community adopted the slogan ’13 dead, nothing said’.

This year, the 40th anniversary of the blaze, campaigners say the story symbolises the police abuse and neglect by the state felt by many black people at the time.

Many close to the inquiry believe there was a lack of will to solve the case and it was ‘swept under the carpet and these promising lines of inquiry ignored’.

A forensic report produced for the Met Police in 2011 ruled out a firebomb attack, concluding that the blaze started when someone in the house set an armchair alight.

Magdalene Edwards, now 57, survived the fire by jumping from a window while three months pregnant, but her 16-year-old stepsister Rosalind Henry died.

After being told of what Smithyman had claimed, she told the MoS: ‘The case has never been investigated properly. Would the same happen if it had been 13 young white children? I don’t think so.’

A Met spokesman said: ‘We thoroughly investigated the circumstances of the fire in 1981. Over the years, a number of reviews and follow-up enquiries have been conducted. We will carefully consider any new information.’

Despite repeated requests, bosses at Whitemoor prison refused to say whether they had passed on to Smithyman a request from The Mail on Sunday to interview him.


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