Call to MPs for inquiry into Britain’s worst wartime civillian disaster

MPs are to be lobbied in the latest stage in the campaign for an official government apology to the people of London’s East End for Britain’s worst wartime civilian disaster in which 173 people died.

Author Rick Fountain, who uncovered Whitehall papers from the Second World War about the 1943 Bethnal Green air-raid shelter tragedy, is calling for an official inquiry to establish who was responsible.

“The legend of the crowd panicking trying to get into the shelter came from Ministry of Home Defence—but there was no panic,” Rick told the Advertiser.

“The ministry created the legend that East Enders’ morale crumbled, that they were hysterical.

“None of it was true. All witnesses and a police report at the time said there was no panic.”

The tragedy was caused by a slippery, narrow staircase leading down to the shelter with no safety rail, he discovered.

Rick, a former BBC journalist, presented a copy of his book being published later this month about the cover-up to former Bucks Fizz star Cheryl Baker at a fundraising concert at St John on Bethnal Green Church on Saturday.

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Cheryl was performing live to raise money towards the permanent memorial being constructed to the men, woman, children and babies crushed to death trying to get down the narrow staircase to safety during an air-raid alert on March 3, 1943.

The Bethnal Green-born singer is also backing the campaign for an official apology.

She said: “It is absolutely shameful that the warnings sounded about the unsafe staircase were ignored. They said people of the East End had panicked—but East Enders were a stanch bunch.”

Rick is sending copies of his book to MPs and wants it lodged in the Commons Library to get an inquiry into the warnings given by Bethnal Green borough council two years before the tragedy that were ignored by Home Defence Secretary Herbert Morrison. The council was wrongly blamed for negligence at the time, Fountain insists.

The campaign follows last month’s apology in the Commons for the 1996 Hillsborough disaster which also involved a cover up and the crowd being blamed.