Vindicated! East Enders in 1943 Bethnal Green air-raid shelter disaster
Startling new evidence has emerged for the first time in 69 years that vindicates East Enders who were blamed in a Government report for panicking during an air-raid alert when 173 people were crushed to death at Bethnal Green—Britain’s worst civilian wartime disaster.
Official records blame shelter users being at fault for the stampede that sent men, women, children and babies to their deaths.
Bethnal Green Council, the local authority at the time, was blamed for negligence.
But former BBC reporter Rick Fountain has unearthed Government documents he says shows the council had warned of the danger of the narrow shelter entrance two years before the tragedy—but their warnings were brushed aside by the civil defence authority of the day.
A Government inquiry and a High Court hearing—both behind closed doors—gagged councillors under wartime regulations and blamed them and the people for the tragedy.
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“Bethnal Green Council was silenced by threats and saddled with the ignominy of a shocking catastrophe,” Rick told The Docklands & East London Advertiser.
“The people of the East End who had endured the carnage of the Blitz two years before were now defamed as cowards who had cracked under the bombings.”
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He claims the Minister for Home Safety in Churchill’s wartime cabinet, Herbert Morrison, covered up the truth afterwards about who was responsible.
Councillors had asked four times in 1941 and ’42—a year before disaster struck—for permission to spend �88 on a brick surround to make the shelter entrance wider and safer, Rick has discovered.
“They feared an anxious crowd could be ‘precipitated down the staircase’,” he says in book out this week, ‘Mr Morrison’s Conjuring Trick’.
“But they were told by the Civil Defence authorities it would be a waste of money.
“The council was later bullied into silence by threats and saddled with the blame of a shocking catastrophe.”
Days after, the brick walls and better lighting were installed.
But Herbert Morrison’s gag meant the council was barred from giving evidence on “national security” grounds to the inquiry—which led to a ruling of negligence.
“It was a perversion of justice,” the author insists. “The official verdict cannot remain unchallenged—Bethnal Green and its people must be vindicated.”
His book coincided with Sunday’s 69th anniversary memorial service which packed St John-on-Bethnal Green church, followed by wreath-laying at the staircase where tragedy struck on March 3, 1943, wiping out whole families.
All 173 names were read out with a candle lit for each, including the youngest victim, a baby just five months old.