I Saw What the Kings Cross Fire Did - Now I Want Justice; Personal Trauma That Drove an MP to Demand Jail for Bosses Who Commit 'Corporate Homicide'

Article excerpt


Three days after the terrible fire at Kings Cross, which I'd been asked to investigate as solicitor for four firemen involved, I visited the Tube station. Nothing I'd previously experienced could have prepared me for the sights and smells left by the devastation and terrible human tragedy of the fire: twisted, unrecognisable metal, charred wooden remains, walls completely black from smoke and flames.

Incongruously, trains still ran through the lower level, apparently untouched by the wreckage above.

During the following weeks, I listened to the stories of victims, distraught relatives, firefighters and Tube staff. I sat through months of the public inquiry as the story of management failure and incompetence was slowly revealed: the failure of London Underground to learn from previous fires on the Tube; the inadequate protective clothing issued to firefighters, exposing them to burns as their plastic leggings and gloves melted in the heat.

But what struck me as outrageous was that, while London Underground eventually accepted responsibility for compensation, neither it nor its managers faced criminal charges over those 31 deaths in 1987.

Even now, when I use Kings Cross Tube station and pass the memorial to the fire's victims, it sends a shiver down my spine. I passionately believe we must address the injustices and legal loopholes revealed by the inquiry and the many disasters since.

I was something of a campaigning lawyer, and involved in politics as a local councillor. Perhaps it was in the blood, in that my grandfather, father and mother had all been coun-cillors.

Indeed, my father was killed in an accident while on council business when I was 11, and this might subconsciously have influenced my decision to become a personal injury lawyer in the first place.

Shortly after Kings Cross, I was one of a small group of lawyers who formed a new organisation - the Association of Personal Injury Lawyers - which, perhaps unusually for the legal profession, had the prime object of putting accident victims first and foremost. Over the years, we've built a powerful lobby for those hurt or bereaved through no fault of their own. My fight for victims' rights has involved me in arguments with Ministers and MPs, and a successful battle in the House of Lords to prevent the cutting of compensation for victims of crime.

There have been other victories. …