Tragedy echoes Manx inferno

Click to follow
The Independent Online
THE DEATHS of 60 young people in a Swedish disco fire during the early hours of yesterday morning brought back memories of the horror of a British leisure centre blaze over a quarter of a century ago.

On Thursday, 2 August 1973, more than 50 people perished when flames swept through the Summerland complex in Douglas, Isle of Man. Thousands of local people and holidaymakers were enjoying themselves in the building, when three schoolboys, who were smoking in a plastic pay desk, inadvertently started a small fire. The flames spread rapidly and within minutes the entire Summerland building was alight. In just one hour it was a charred wreck.

The official report into the fire made 34 recommendations which the inquiry team hoped would prevent similar tragedies and blamed human error for the incident - although it said there were "no villains". Many pointed to the fact that there was no sprinkler system in the building. Others said the disaster was worse because of a material used in the construction.

Pauline Wynne-Smythe was named as a heroine in the report and is credited with saving the lives of 300 people on the night. As manageress of the complex's Marquee Showbar, Mrs Wynne-Smythe kept calm among the mass panic, leading people to safety.

It is a horror that was brought to the forefront of her mind as she listened to radio reports of the Gothenburg tragedy while driving to work yesterday morning. "I still have nightmares about that night," said the 54-year-old Mrs Wynne-Smythe."Whenever a fire happens, such as the Bradford disaster, I automatically think I know what they're going through."

Mrs Wynne-Smythe said the enormity of Summerland tragedy did not hit her until two weeks later. "It was delayed shock," she said. During the funeral of a fellow member of staff killed in the blaze, she finally cracked under the strain. "I was on tranquillisers for three years afterwards." (PA)