THERE is compelling evidence to suggest a West Wickham 14-year-old found dead almost 70 years ago was murdered by his headmaster - a predatory paedophile - the boy's best friend says.

Geoffrey Bucknall, 84, was working on his autobiography when he began investigating the death of Tony Ganley.

In October 1944, Tony, who lived in Goodhart Lane, was found face down in a Dulwich flowerbed.

The initial inquest found he died from asphyxia, caused by an epileptic fit.

But Mr Bucknall is convinced the verdict recorded by the coroner - of accidental death - was incorrect and is asking the Attorney General to get it changed.

Instead, Mr Bucknall, who grew up in West Wickham, believes his friend was murdered by sex attacker Allen George Philip Austin - known as Philip.

A 31-year-old by the same name was headteacher of Barnhill School in Pickhurst Lane, West Wickham, and a part time teacher at Dulwich College at the time.

Mr Bucknall attended Barnhill School, now closed, with Tony, and alleges chemistry teacher Mr Austin gave pupils drugged alcoholic drinks on three occasions.

He said: "I believe that he had drugged and sexually assaulted him and, when he had killed him, he dumped the body, pushing his head into the ground after he had died."

According to a newspaper report at the time of the inquest, Tony had arranged to pick up air pistol pellets from Mr Austin's home the day he disappeared.

Four days later he was dead.

The same report states that Mr Austin, when called as a witness at the inquest, did not attend on two occasions, blaming amnesia.

Mr Bucknall has always been suspicious of the circumstances surrounding his friend's death, but it was only when he started researching his autobiography that his suspicions were realised.

He said: "It is well known that predatory paedophiles are repeat offenders. It becomes an obsession. They commit crime after crime."

Mr Bucknall's probing brought him to newspaper records from Blackpool, 1967, on the death of a 24-year old man, found naked and strangled in bed.

Initially identified as Philip Kelly in newspaper reports - Austin's mother's maiden name - 54-year-old Allen George Philip Austin was named as the killer.

He killed himself in police custody by taking sodium cyanide.

It was later revealed he had five convictions for assaulting men.

Mr Bucknall claims the odds of there being two Austins of the correct age, identical initials, both using a third Christian name, Philip, would be "astronomical".

He has given his files of evidence to the Attorney General, Southwark chief coroner and the Home Office in the hope that the inquest be reopened.

The Attorney General is now processing the application.

Mr Bucknall, now living in Teesdale, will be publishing the story in the second edition of his autobiography, Alive on a Rainy Day, released this summer.

If any surviving relatives of Tony Ganley want to speak to Mr Bucknall, call 01833 650 866.