Michael Smithyman, who had been jailed for killing his pregnant girlfriend, was the subject of a police report submitted to the Home Office and was reinterviewed by an elite Scotland Yard unit in 1993

Michael Smithyman, who was in prison for the murder of his pregnant partner, was the subject a police report submitted by the Home Office. This was reinterviewed and interpreted by an elite Scotland Yard unit back in 1993

Police chiefs were accused of not fully investigating the confession of a murderer in jail who revealed that a house fire had been started 40 years ago and killed 13 young black partygoers.

1981’s New Cross fire in South London prompted a campaign of political action due to allegations of an inept response from government and police.

Although no one has been tried for starting the fire, police have received confessions from a prisoner who identified a suspect and stated that he was present when it started.

Michael Smithyman, who was jailed for murdering his pregnant partner, was the subject a police report submitted by the Home Office. He was reinterviewed in 1993 by an elite Scotland Yard team.

The probe was stopped shortly afterward, leaving some officers furious at the inability to investigate the claim fully.

The briefing note of eight pages states: “It is believed that Smithyman, the other person with…” [name removed for legal reasons]He was present when the fire started, and it is our belief that he will admit to being complicit in the matter.

Nearly all of the victims of the January 18th 1981 fire were teenagers, and all were black. Twenty-seven other people sustained serious injuries. One survivor was so shocked by the scene that he committed suicide two years later. After police failed in their search for the culprit, the local community adopted a slogan of “13 dead. Nothing said”. 

Campaigners claim that the story, which marks the 40th anniversary the blaze, represents the abuse and neglect of the state felt by many blacks at the time.

The New Cross fire in South London in 1981 prompted a campaign for political action over allegations of a totally inadequate response from police and government

The New Cross fire that erupted in South London in 1981 prompted a political movement over allegations of a completely inadequate response from government and police.

Prelude to an Uprising 

For a generation, the New Cross fire is seen as a symbol for Britain’s troubled attitude to race relations by black Britons.

The South London blaze and its failure to find the culprit reflected the fact that people in authority didn’t care about them.

Steve McQueen (film director) said that the blazes and their aftermath were’momentous moments in our nation’s past’.

The tragedy led to a massive protest march in London, March 1981. Tensions then escalated into violent violence as the capital witnessed the worst civil disorder of the 20th century with the Brixton riots in April 1981.

In three days of violence, more than 300 police officers were injured and 65 members of public were also hurt.


Initial police thought that the inferno was caused a firebomb being thrown through a downstairs windows. The forensic evidence later suggested that it started inside the house. Two inquests into deaths of victims gave open verdict.

Smithyman’s alleged involvement was first discovered when he was interviewed ten years later by police following a tip-off from Paul Smith, a former associate. Smithyman is now a property developer based at Clacton, Essex. 

Smithyman, who was already serving a life sentence for murdering his 22-year-old girlfriend April Sheridan and her pregnant 22-year old daughter April, gave a chilling account of how the fire started during 40 taped interviews.

He was 14 years old at the time. He claims that he tried to gatecrash a party with another teenager. After being turned away, the other boy – whom he named – began the fire in revenge. Smithyman said that he went to an nearby adventure playground and returned to see that a fire had taken over the house. He also claimed that people were jumping out of upstairs windows.

According to police records, the MoS discovered that a senior officer wrote: ‘He (the Arsonist) describes the motive behind the fire as a stupid joke to scare partygoers who had refused entry to the party. 

But no further investigations or charges were filed. Sources close the case claim that the allegations weren’t made public due to “political considerations”.

According to a source close to the inquiry, Smithyman claimed that he had a good time with the arsonist when they were sleeping on a flat roof next to the fire. 

The source said chillingly that he had seen Rastafarians set ablaze by the windows at the top of the building and he called them ‘roastafarians’.

Smithyman is now 56 years old and is currently being held at HMP Whitemoor, Cambridgeshire. He retracted his confession at the time of a parole Hearing in 2015. He claimed that he was not present at the start of the fire.

Magdalene Edwards, now 57, survived the fire by jumping from a window while three months pregnant, but her 16-year-old stepsister Rosalind Henry (pictured) died

Magdalene, now 57, survived by jumping from a window three months before she was due. But her 16-year-old stepsister Rosalind Henry (pictured below) died.

Many people close to the inquiry believe that there was a lack in will to solve the case. They also believe that these promising lines were ignored and swept under the rug. 

Met Police’s 2011 forensic report concluded that there was no firebomb attack. It stated that the fire started when an armchair was set on fire.

Magdalene, now 57 years old, survived the fire jumping from a window three months before she was due. Rosalind Henry, her 16 year-old stepmother, was also present.

After being told what Smithyman had claimed she told the MoS that the investigation into the matter was not complete. What if it were 13 young white children? I don’t believe so.

A Met spokesperson stated that they had conducted thorough investigations into the circumstances of the 1981 fire. Over the years, many reviews and follow up inquiries have been made. We will review any new information.

Despite repeated requests from Whitemoor prison bosses, they refused to tell Smithyman whether they had received a request from The Mail on Sunday for him to be interviewed.