Mayor backs Advertiser bid for apology for Bethnal Green wartime disaster

12:47 24 September 2012

1943... Entrance to Bethnal Green public air-raid shelter

1943... Entrance to Bethnal Green public air-raid shelter

London Met Archive - promo

The Mayor of Tower Hamlets is backing the Advertiser’s campaign for an official apology to the people of London’s East End over a wartime tragedy that cost 173 civilian lives.

Men, women, children and babies died in the Bethnal Green public air-raid shelter during an enemy alert because the staircase leading down to safety was unsafe and couldn’t cope with the surge.

The campaign comes in the wake of last week’s apology in the Commons by Prime Minister David Cameron over the Hillsborough affair which cost the lives of 96 football fans 23 years ago.

Mayor Lutfur Rahman told Wednesday’s Tower Hamlets council meeting: “Hillsborough reminds us of our own tragedy—the 1943 Bethnal Green Disaster when 173 East Enders lost their lives, leaving families devastated and searching for answers to this day.”

The similarities with Hillsborough are uncanny. The victims were blamed in both cases by the authorities who were later seen to have engineered cover-ups after previous warnings about unsafe public facilities had been ignored.

The wartime Civil Defence authorities failed to listen to Bethnal Green borough council before the disaster about the unsafe stairway leading down to the half-built Underground station being used as a deep-level shelter.

Home Defence Minister Herbert Morrison later used the wartime security and Official Secrets Act to stop the council, a forerunner of Tower Hamlets, going public with the truth.

Mayor Rahman pledged: “I am supporting the campaigners’ call for a fresh review—and calling on our local MPs to join in this campaign.”

News of the Mayor’s support was welcomed this week by the Stairway to Heaven Trust which is building a permanent memorial at Bethnal Green Gardens to the victims.

Its secretary Sandra Scotting told the Advertiser: “Morrison blamed panicking crowds—but even a police report at the time said there was no panic. It was a cover-up.

“In today’s climate, it would have been put down to sheer weight of numbers, unsafe entrance design and poor lighting.”

But the difference with Hillsborough is that the Bethnal Green tragedy has never been openly investigated.

An inquiry now needs to re-examine the facts to find out who was really to blame for the 173 deaths. Like Hillsborough, it wasn’t the victims.

Sign up for our news alerts today!

Our editors' picks for the day's top news delivered to your inbox or phone.

Sign up for email alerts Sign up for mobile alerts
1
2 3 4 5 6
7

Latest London politics news

Monday, May 18, 2015
Your future Mayor? [Image from YouTube]

Conservative candidate for Mayor of London, Ivan Massow, has transformed himself into a cartoon character in order to get the top job.

Sunday, May 10, 2015
Protestors are surrounded by police (Photo by Rob Stothard/Getty Images)

All but one of 15 people arrested during a spontaneous anti-austerity protest against the new Tory government have been bailed, police said today.

Friday, May 8, 2015
Voters in Hampstead voted for Ronnie Carroll, who is dead (PA)

A total of 113 people voted for a parliamentary candidate who died four weeks before the election.

Friday, May 8, 2015
Ed Balls has lost his seat (Photo by Ian Forsyth/Getty Images)

Ed Balls became the highest-profile casualty of a disastrous General Election performance for Labour, losing his seat to the Conservatives in a shock result. Twitter reacted to his demise...

Friday, May 8, 2015
Simon Hughes has lost his Bermondsey and Old Southwark seat after more than three decades (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

Much-loved senior Liberal Democrat Simon Hughes has lost his Bermondsey and Old Southwark seat after 32 years.

Friday, May 8, 2015
Mayor of London Boris Johnson has won a seat in Uxbridge and South Ruislip in west London (Andrew Matthews/PA Wire)

Boris Johnson has succeeded in his bid for a Commons comeback after winning the seat for Uxbridge and South Ruislip in west London.

Breaking News

Friday, May 22, 2015

There are severe delays on the Central Line after a woman was hit by a Tube train.

Read more

What is this?

Near You Now

Don't Miss...

Competitions

You could take in stunning views of London over brunch at the Sky Garden

Celebrate lighter, brighter days with the chance of winning an indulgent brunch for two with a bottle of bubbles at Darwin, the cool and casual brasserie 36 floors up at Sky Garden.

Read more