Relatives remember victims of King’s Cross fire at memorial service
Thirty-one people died and around 60 were injured when an escalator fire ripped through part of the station on November 18 1987.
Relatives of those killed in the King’s Cross fire have taken part in an emotional service to mark 30 years since the devastating blaze.
Survivors and emergency services personnel who responded to the blaze joined the memorial service at the north London Tube station on Saturday.
The tragedy and a subsequent public inquiry led to stricter fire safety regulations.
Leading the short service, London Fire Brigade chaplain the Rev Ian Black said of those affected: “We will remember them in silence in our hearts.”
Mayor of London Sadiq Khan laid wreaths alongside Transport for London commissioner Mike Brown, under a plaque in the ticket hall near where the fire took hold.
Relatives, some of whom were tearful as they reflected by the floral tributes, said their memories of the day remain “fresh”.
Deirdre Holloway, whose brother Christopher Roome was killed, said: “It seems amazing that it was 30 years ago. It seems quite fresh. My brother would be 80 now.”
Mr Roome, a stockbroker, had been travelling back from work in the city to his flat in Pimlico, central London, when he was evacuated from a train at the station.
Ms Holloway, from Beaconsfield in Buckinghamshire, said her brother managed to escape but suffered 75% burns and died a little more than a week after the blaze.
Recalling speaking to him in hospital she said: “He said how glad he was to get out, he said ‘I don’t know how I survived, it was hell down there’.”
Anila Mushtaq, who was just a teenager when she lost her brother Shoaib Khan in the fire, said she felt “among family” as she attended the memorial.
She said: “I feel like I am among my family and we share the same tragedy, the same sorrow so we just have each other and we help each other and basically we give support.”
Her brother was a 22-year-old student coming home from his part-time job when he was caught up in the blaze.
Roger Bell, from Kent, had been a firefighter in Clerkenwell at the time and was called to help. The 73-year-old believes he was the last person to speak to London Fire Brigade station officer Colin Townsley.
Mr Townsley was in charge of the first fire engine to arrive at the scene shortly after 7.30pm and was in the station when the fireball erupted, engulfing the ticket office with smoke.
Mr Bell said he had carried a feeling of guilt for years, after he advised the senior officer to stay at the top of the stairs while he went down to clear the way for fire equipment to get through.
He said he told Mr Townsley: “Guv, you should be at the top”, adding, “And he just turned on his heel immediately, so he was probably thinking the same thing as I said it.
“And he went back up the stairs and I went down stopping people going on the stairs and of course Colin Townsley was never seen again.”
He added: “That was horrid because I felt as though I had sent him to his death at the time.”
Mr Bell, who said he now knows there was nothing he could have done, said he “swallowed hard” as he returned to the scene shortly before the memorial service, standing at the top of steps.
Mr Townsley was posthumously awarded a certificate of commendation for his bravery.
London Underground managing director Mark Wild paid tribute to the “very brave” station staff, train drivers and emergency services.
He said: “The really key thing out of King’s Cross is it instilled a safety culture in London Underground of continuously improving.
“Even though that risk has been eliminated, we’re always alert to future ones.”
Smoking was immediately banned on all parts of the Tube after the disaster, wooden escalators were replaced and Underground staff were trained in what to do in the event of a fire.
Mick Cash, general secretary of the Rail, Maritime and Transport union, said the King’s Cross fire stands alongside the disaster at Grenfell Tower as a reminder that “safety and regulation must remain our watchwords regardless of what the bottom line says on a set of accounts”.
Echoing Mr Cash’s words Sadiq Khan said: “Today’s anniversary is all the more poignant in the aftermath of the devastating fire at Grenfell Tower – the lessons learned from the King’s Cross tragedy have shaped the London Fire Brigade and the London Underground we know today.”
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