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Jury Rules Subway Fire Deaths Accidental

October 11, 1988

LONDON (AP) _ A coroner’s inquest jury ruled Tuesday that all 31 people killed in a fire at London’s busiest subway station last year died accidentally.

The jury ruled that all but one of the victims died from smoke inhalation when fire raced up a wooden escalator at the King’s Cross station and a ball of flames exploded in the ticket lobby Nov. 18.

One man died later in hospital from complications resulting from his burns. Eighty others were injured.

Matthew Scott, representing relatives of some of the victims, had urged Coroner Dr. Douglas Chambers to instruct the jury it could also bring in a verdict of unlawful killing.

″There is some evidence, albeit partial and incomplete, that there has been gross negligence,″ Scott said.

″I refer in particular to the failure to apply a drop of water to that fire for the first 15 minutes of its existence. I refer possibly to the 18 previous fires which were either undiscovered or not acted upon, on that escalator,″ he said.

″These are simply the tips of the iceberg,″ Scott said. ″The jury, of course, haven’t heard the full story.″

Chambers rejected the submission and told the jury there was ″no place for a verdict of unlawful killing - it isn’t that sort of court.″

Such verdicts were best left to a crminal court, with a judge and lawyers trained in criminal law, he said. The only other possible ruling beside accidental death was an open verdict, he said.

Investigators believe the fire started when a lighted cigarette fell onto a wooden escalator surrounded by grease-soaked trash. Smoking has since been banned throughout the subway system.

The six-day inquest was delayed while police inquiries and other investigations were completed. An inquest was required by law to formally rule on the cause of deaths.

The government’s public inquiry into the fire concluded in June but its findings have not yet been made public.

After Tuesday’s ruling, Sophie Tarassenko, whose rock musician brother, Ivan, 25, died in the blaze, complained: ″This is a complete travesty of the truth.

″I was pretty angry before, but I am feeling very, very angry now,″ she said.

″We came here to find out how our relatives died and what happened to them and they were only ever mentioned as a broad list. The rest of the time was spent patting people on the back and saying what a good job they did.″

Mary Groombridge, whose widowed mother, Natalie Falco, died, said she was also ″very, very angry as we all are.″

She said: ″I don’t think it was an investigation into how they died at all. There has been an inquiry investigating the circumstances of the deaths, but this has been just a total farce.″

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