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Thursday, February 4, 2010

body 115. The mystery of the last victim of the King's Cross Fire. Paul Chambers. John Wiley & Sons,Ltd. (2007)

On the 18th November 1987 there was a fire in King's Cross Underground station that killed 31 people, thirty of these victims were identified within two weeks, the final victim was not positively identified for sixteen years. This very well written and enthralling book examines the whole story from the start of the fire to the final burial of the man known for sixteen years as "body 115". It is a remarkable story of persistence, forensic investigations, luck and deep abiding tragedy.
Paul Chambers has written a sober, detailed and very thoughtful book about the fire and its long term consequences. A dropped match on an wooden escalator was the cause of the fire, it ignited the accumulated rubbish underneath the moving steps. The progress of the fire and it immediate aftermath are described in vivid detail, the extraordinary persistence of passengers in ignoring the visible danger and explicit safety instructions are mind boggling. The confusion and courage at the fire are captured very well, as are the responses of the media and relevant organisations to the fire.
The heart of the book is the extraordinary search to identify the final unknown victim, referred to for years by his mortuary tag id as "body 115". What would appear to be a relatively simple task was to prove to be well nigh intractable. The body was burnt so badly that there was scant, if ultimately, very important forensic evidence. The details that were available all lead frustratingly to dead ends. Thanks to the ongoing commitment of the British Transport Police, the case was kept live and when finally, due to an fantastically luck event the victim could finally be identified. This vivid, astonishing and very moving story is a great read.

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