Thursday 20 December 2012

Hillsborough - closing in on the truth?

So, 23 years after the Hillsborough disaster, the friends and loved ones of victims are to get a second chance to uncover the truth, and today the British government announced it would provide the money to ensure they get proper legal representation at new inquests.

It was at the FA Cup semi-final on April 15, 1989 that 96 Liverpool supporters died when a severe crush developed at the Leppings Lane end of Sheffield Wednesday’s ground.   Ordering new inquests, the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Judge, said ‘deliberate misinformation’ had been disseminated about the disaster.

He expressed particular concern about the role of the police, and about false accusations that drunkenness among fans had played an important part in the tragedy.    These allegations, he said, were ‘unacceptable and unfair’.  

The judge also praised the victims’ families for their dogged pursuit of the truth.   What a disgrace that it has taken so long for them to be heard.  The story of the disaster can be found in A Disastrous History of Britain.

*A new blog about my Historia mundial de los desastres.

Tuesday 18 December 2012

Bangladesh factory fire 'sabotage'

Last month’s factory fire on the outskirts of Bangladesh’s capital Dhaka, in which at least 110 people died (see my blog of Nov 25) was caused by sabotage according to an official inquiry.

But the head of the inquiry, Main Uddin Khandaker, added that the owner had been guilty of ‘severe negligence’.  He said factory officials had padlocked exits and prevented workers from escaping.

It is claimed that the factory’s fire certificate was out of date and that the company had permission for only a three-storey building even though it stood nine storeys high.  

The owner of the Tazreen factory has denied the building was unsafe.   It made clothing for a number of well-known retailers.  After the blaze, thousands protested in the streets, demanding higher safety standards.

*A new review of my book Disaster!

Friday 14 December 2012

1986 air crash - accident or murder?

Police in South Africa have launched a fresh investigation into the plane crash in 1986 that killed the Mozambican president Samora Machel and 33 other people, including government ministers and officials.    The Soviet-built Tupolev Tu-134, taking them home from an international meeting in Lusaka, came down in a mountainous area of South Africa.

The following year, a South African judge, assisted by experts from the USA and the UK, said the cause was negligence on the part of the crew, but Russian experts working with the Mozambican authorities claimed the pilot was lured to disaster by a decoy navigation beacon.

Now there are reports that investigators have found detailed new evidence, including a sworn statement from a military intelligence agent of the apartheid era, plus documents, photographs and voice recordings.

The South African apartheid regime carried out a series of military strikes in Mozambique and other Africa states in the 1980’s. 

Friday 7 December 2012

London killer fogs

Sixty years ago this week, London was in the grip of perhaps the deadliest fog in its history.  The air was thick yellow, with sulphur dioxide levels ten times higher than usual.   Visibility was reduced to 20 yards, sometimes less.

Not surprisingly, transport came to a standstill, and the smog even got inside buildings so that a performance at Sadler’s Wells Theatre had to be abandoned because the audience couldn’t see the stage.

The foul air was estimated to have caused the deaths of up to 12,000 Londoners, and the government set up an inquiry to try and prevent anything like it happening again.    The result was the Clean Air Act of 1956, which  improved things dramatically.   

Now the Clean Air in London campaign is complaining that Mayor Boris Johnson has been quietly lobbying to dilute European rules on air standards in spite of a report in 2010 which said that 4,300 Londoners a year were still dying because of poor air quality in the capital.

*You can read more about the 1952 smog in my book London’s Disasters.  It also features the Regent’s Park skating disaster, recalled in a fascinating series on London’s lesser known disasters on the Londonist website -

Wednesday 5 December 2012

Philippines typhoon - being prepared helps

At least 200 people are now believed to have been killed in the southern Philippines by Typhoon Bopha, and 70 per cent of the agricultural land in the area is said to have been damaged.

Compostela Valley province, in eastern Mindanao, is the area worst hit, where mudslides engulfed a school and a village hall being used as evacuation centres.   Among those killed or missing are soldiers who had gone to help. Rescue efforts are being hampered because many roads are blocked by fallen trees and collapsed bridges.  

In December last year, Typhoon Washi killed more than 1,300 people in the Southern Philippines.  Bopha is actually stronger than its deadly predecessor, but this time people were better prepared thanks to the media, telephone warnings, early evacuations and a special website.

The death toll has also been reduced because Bopha had slowed down a little before it hit some particularly vulnerable areas.  The deadliest ever typhoon to hit the Philippines is believed to have been Thelma which killed up to 8,000 people in November 1991.   (See also my blogs of 28 Sept and 10 Oct, 2009; and 6 Jan 2011.)

Monday 3 December 2012

Bhopal + 28 - protests and a museum

On the 28th anniversary of the Bhopal chemical disaster, victims and their supporters held rallies to complain that they have still not been adequately compensated.    A march on the residence of a leading politician to deliver a letter was halted by police.

Activists complain that still no one has been properly called to account for the disaster, in which poisonous methyl isocyanate gas leaked from Union Carbide’s plant, killing perhaps 3,800 people in the immediate aftermath and causing illness and death to many thousands more in the years that followed.

Meanwhile the ‘Remember Bhopal Trust’ is setting up a mobile museum made up of articles donated by the families of victims, including materials used in protests over the last 28 years.  From December 2013, it will tour India on a bus.

The curator says they have refused any government funding, arguing the government ‘has no moral authority to set up the museum as they were themselves a party to the gas disaster.'  (See also my blogs of Aug 1, 2009; June 7, and July 13, 2010.)