Families challenge inquest on flat deaths

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The Independent Online
NICHOLAS HOOGSTRATEN, a property millionaire, should have been called to give evidence to an inquest into the deaths of five people in a flat fire because there was evidence that he was the owner of the property, the High Court was told yesterday.

The five died at a party after being trapped on the third floor of a five-storey converted house at Hove, East Sussex, which had no fire escape. Their families have been granted a judicial review of the conduct of the inquest last year by Donald Gooding, the East Sussex coroner, over his failure to call Mr Hoogstraten. The inquest at Brighton had been told that Trevor Carrington, 38, a former airline steward, had confessed to setting alight a sofa in the hallway on 18 April as 'a prank'. Two days later he threw himself under a lorry after hearing of the deaths.

At the High Court yesterday Mr Justice Glidewell and Mr Justice Cresswell were told by Edward Fitzgerald, for the families, that in a witness statement to police, one of the residents said he had been told by the managing agent for the flats that Mr Hoogstraten was the owner. It was among 200 statements given to the coroner by police after their investigation of the fire, but was not included in the bundle given to the families.

Mr Fitzgerald said the coroner had wiped the tape-recording of the inquest on which his notes were based.

The freehold of the building now belongs to one of the occupants, but at the time of the fire was owned by De Alnie, a company registered in the British Virgin Islands. Mr Fitzgerald said he had an affidavit from a journalist on the Brighton Evening Argus alleging a conversation with Mr Hoogstraten in which the tycoon had said he was behind De Alnie.

Mr Fitzgerald said the resident who had bought the freehold had only been able to do so after a court battle.

After the inquest last August, Mr Hoogstraten, 46, speaking from France through an intermediary, said he had no interest in De Alnie, or the property where the fire took place. The judicial review continues today.

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