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FIRE RELATIVES SEEK TO OVERTURN HOVE INQUEST DECISION

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Hove Borough Council fire safety inspectors made eight vain attempts to gain entry to a building that was later the...
Hove Borough Council fire safety inspectors made eight vain attempts to gain entry to a building that was later the subject of a birthday party arson attack in which five people were killed.

The last attempt by officers from the council's Environmental Health Department was made just two months before the blaze at 11 Palmeira Avenue, Hove, in April last year, London's High Court heard.

The party's host, Tim Sharpe, 28, Adrian Johns, 32, of Brighton but originally from Llandudno, Mabel Roberts, 45, of Colwyn Bay, Andrew Manners, 29, of Cheltenham, and Paul Jones, 33, of Brighton but originally from Denbigh, all died in the blaze.

The five, amongst 16 party-goers many of whom were also badly injured, died when overcome by smoke or whilst trying to leap 60 feet from the third floor flat on April 18 1992. Mr Johns' brother, Lea Homberg, who was himself injured when he leapt from the building, Ms Roberts's son, Gareth, and Mr Manners' mother, Jean, are seeking a fresh inquest into the deaths.

With the backing of the relatives of Mr Sharpe and Mr Jones, they are trying to overturn the unlawful killing verdict returned by an inquest jury presided over by East Sussex Coroner, Dr Donald Gooding, on August 18 last year, the court was told.

The families of the dead stormed out of the inquest in protest before critical witnesses could be cross-examined and they are seeking judicial review 'on grounds relating to the coroners conduct,' Lord Justice Simon Brown and Mr Justice Morland heard. They claim he truth of what happened is yet to fully emerge and in particular complain about Dr Gooding's refusal to call millionaire property owner Nicholas Hoogstraten as a witness

The ownership of the property remains swathed in mystery, but the court heard yesterday that Mr Hoogstraten, now believed to be living in the South of France, had been 'consistently linked' to the building's ownership.

The building is said to have been bereft of fire escapes. The version of events accepted by the inquest is that the fire was started 'as a prank' by airline steward, Trevor Carrington, of (36) Newmarket Road, Brighton.

Mr Carrington is said to have confessed to his brother before committing suicide by throwing himself under a lorry three days after the blaze. The families of the dead accept the verdict of unlawful killing 'but not in the simple manner brought out at the inquest' their counsel, Mr Edward Fitzgerald told the court.

'They are not satisfied with the version of events which suggests this whole thing was caused by the flicking of a firelighter on a sofa on the ground floor.'

'There is a strong suspicion that there was a more sustained attempt at arson probably by more than one person. There is a suggestion that the fire may have been started in number of places in the building.'

And today Mr Fitzgerald told the court that up until February 17 last year officers from Hove BC hadmade eight unsuccessful attempts to gain access to the building to inspect fire precautions the council had ordered to be installed in 1988.

He claimed the picture presented to the inquest jury by the coroner and council officers called as witnesses that nothing could be done to provide a means of escape from the building was 'misleading'.

The hearing continues.

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