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Business owner’s mural to New Cross fire victims unveiled

A new mural was unveiled on New Cross Road this weekend as a memorial to the people who died in a fire more than 40 years ago – and as a reminder to those who have forgotten, writes Euan Dawtrey…

Richard Simpson, who runs the Cummin’ Up Caribbean takeaway, put up the three-and-a-half metre tall mural on his shopfront on the road on Saturday, a few minutes’ walk from number 439, the house where the deadly fire took place on January 17, 1981.

Among several speakers on Saturday was David Michael, the first black police officer from Lewisham. It was Michael’s 50th year anniversary of when he first joined the police force as a young man, which Simpson said added to the poignancy of the occasion.  Although David Michael has now retired from the force, he was a founding member of the Black Police Association and is still active in the community.

Simpson spoke powerfully about the significance of physicalising the communities loss, one which he said has gone unrecognised by mainstream British history. In the ensuing months following the tragedy, 20,000 people marched to protest the media’s apathy to a crisis they felt should have been taken more seriously.

But Simpson was clear that the mural’s purpose wasn’t ‘authority bashing’, and instead served to immortalise the memory of those who tragically lost their lives, whilst prompting a conversation about the event.

Simpson said: ‘It’s in your face, so you can take the time to learn about what happened.’

Thirteen young black British people died that night after a fire broke out at a birthday party for Yvonne Ruddock and Angela Jackson. Most of the people who died were teenagers, with the oldest just 22. A survivor is thought to have killed himself two years later.

The cause of the fire is still unclear, decades on. Two inquests have returned open verdicts. The tragedy soon led to an outcry from people who thought police and the media were not taking the fire seriously enough because its victims were black.

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