Fire Guts Murdoch Newsprint Warehouse; Police Investigating
LONDON (AP) _ A huge fire Monday night gutted a warehouse containing 20,000 tons of newsprint owned by newspaper publisher Rupert Murdoch.
Police said the circumstances are suspicious and they are intestigating. Murdoch is involved in an angry 18-week-old trade union dispute with 5,500 fired newspaper production workers.
The British domestic news agency, Press Association, said police are believed to be working on the theory that the blaze was started by firebombers.
The fire at the one-story warehouse at Deptford in the southeast London docks area sent flames roaring 200 feet into the sky and could be seen for miles around. About 180 firemen from all over London fought the blaze, which the London Fire Brigade described as one of the biggest in the capital in recent years.
″The circumstances of this fire are very suspicious and are being investigated by the Criminal Investigation Department,″ police Inspector Roland Lamb told reporters.
The warehouse, used to store reels of newsprint, the paper on which newspapers are printed, is owned by Convoys (London Wharf) Ltd., a subsidiary of Murdoch’s News International group.
Convoys supplies newsprint for Murdoch’s four British newspapers - the London Times, the tabloid Sun and two weekly newspapers, the Sunday Times and the News of the World - which are involved in the dispute. The firm also supplies newsprint for non-Murdoch newspapers around the country.
There were no reports of casualties in the fire and production of Tuesday’s editions of Murdoch’s papers was not affected.
Press Association quoted the security man who raised the alarm as saying: ″This fire is no accident.″ He said he first spotted a small flicker of flame inside the warehouse and started running to investigate when the building burst into flame from end to end.
Australian-born Murdoch became a U.S. citizen last year. His international news empire includes television stations and newspapers in the United States and newspapers in Australia.
He fired the 5,500 London newspaper production workers on Jan. 25 after they went on strike in a dispute over the introduction of computerized newspaper technology. National newspaper production in Britain has been plagued for many years by union disputes, strikes, wildcat stoppages and resistance to modern technology.
At the same time he fired the 5,500, he moved production of the four newspapers from central London to his high-technology newspaper plant at Wapping in east London, staffed by specially trained members of the electricians’ union.
Repeated clashes between police and thousands of the fired workers and leftist supporters outside the Wapping plant have resulted in scores of demonstrators and police being injured and scores of arrests since the dispute began.
Union leaders are organizing ballots to decide whether to accept Murdoch’s proposed deal for ending the dispute. He has offered $73.5 million in compensation for job losses plus the production buildings and plant abandoned by the papers when they moved to Wapping.
But hardliners among the fired workers say his offer is not enough. They want the dispute to continue in hopes of forcing Murdoch to reemploy them.