“The King’s Cross fire was a game changer” – Chief Constable Paul Crowther

Following the terrible fire in November 1987, there was a public inquiry which concluded with the publication of the Fennell Report in 1988.

Desmond Fennell (OBE QC) made several recommendations to improve the safety of the London underground.

At British Transport Police, since 1987 we have dealt with many more major incidents and have learnt from each one, to keep improving how we respond along with our colleagues in the other emergency services.

Chief Constable Paul Crowther said: “The King’s Cross fire was a game-changer. It fundamentally changed the nature of the Tube.

“If we think back now it seems inconceivable that the escalators were made of wood. The cause of the fire was traced to fluff and debris that had dropped down and got beneath the escalators and had caught fire, probably from a discarded cigarette.

“As a result of the public inquiry, wooden escalators were rapidly phased out and all sorts of regulations came in about fire precautions, including widening and enforcing the smoking ban on the underground.

“For us, the major thing at the time was that we had no radio system that worked underground. That hampered officers who were downstairs on the Piccadilly Line and Victoria Line as they were helping people without knowing exactly what had unfolded above them. So one of the big changes for us was a new radio system was installed. Even that, by today’s technical standards sounds a bit like a couple of tins with a wire between them in comparison to what we have now, but it was the beginning of that change, and that was subsequently superseded by the airwave system that was coming into place around the time of the 7/7 London underground bombings.

“There were many practices and contingency plans put in place with the fire brigade to respond to fire calls at underground stations across the network.

“The working relationships between BTP and other emergency services have always been very good. We exercise together and the procedures and processes have changed many times over the years for the better.

“As we have seen in recent incidents, the way emergency services have worked together across London in a number of major incidents has been first class, but we can always learn from every single one.

“If I reflect back to 1987 and the fire, there was no such thing as wellbeing visits, trauma care to deal with people who had been involved and it was very much a ‘let’s get on with it’, macho type culture. I think things have changed for the good and nowadays we recognise the impact that big incidents have on the responders as well as it does on the people who are involved. We have a whole array of activities that kick in as soon as there is a major incident to make sure that we can support our people through those very difficult times. 

“The disaster itself and the subsequent enquiry led to fundamental change.”