On January 18, 1981, a blaze ripped through the ground floor of a terraced house on New Cross Road, tragically killing 13 young black people.

The youngsters were attending a birthday party at the house when the devastating fire took hold in the early hours of the morning.

Two years later the fire claimed another, Anthony Berbeck, aged 20, who died after falling from the balcony of a block of council flats in South London.

He was at the party and is believed to have taken his own life following the traumatic death of his friends.

Forty years and various inquests later, a conclusion over what sparked the fatal fire has never been reached.

An open verdict has made it difficult for scars in the community to heal – instead, leaving the enduring slogan “13 dead, nothing said.”

In an initial inquest, held three months after the fire, it was suggested the fire had originated from a flame inside the party.

However, there were reports that a white car was spotted driving away from the scene on New Cross Road.

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The fire's victims

The far-right National Front was active in parts of London at the time, and rumours circulated that a petrol bomb may have caused the inferno.

A new action in the High Court in 2002 led to an order for a second inquest, which was held in 2004. But this also resulted in an open verdict, despite many feeling the fire was started deliberately.

The coroner said it was “probable” the fire was started on purpose and two key witnesses had held back vital information at the time.

Nobody has ever been charged in relation to the fire, and for friends and family of the victims, this makes the past hard to lay to rest. 

George Francis, father of fire victim Gerry Paul Francis, spoke to News Shopper on the 30th anniversary of the blaze.

He said: “We are still hoping that something may come to light in years to come. We will never be able to come to terms with what happened until we get a positive answer. It is just the not knowing.”

However, forty years later, the deaths of the young black partygoers are still shrouded in mystery.

Their names were: Paul Ruddock, 22; Lloyd Richard Hall, 20; Humphrey Brown, 18; Peter Campbell, 18; Steve Collins, 17; Gerry Francis, 17; Patrick Cummings, 16; Rosalind Henry, 16; Yvonne Ruddock, 16; Owen Thompson, 16, Patricia Denise Johnston, 15; Glenton Powell, 15; Andrew Gooding, 14.