Man who escaped the New Cross fire recalls ‘peeling the skin off his face’
A man who survived the New Cross Fire after jumping out of a window has recalled ‘peeling the skin off his face’ during the suspected racist attack.
Wayne Haynes, from south east London, was 16 when a fire broke out in a three-storey property on New Cross Road in 1981 during a birthday party, which led to the deaths of 13 young black people.
Reports that a white man had been seen throwing something into the house that evening let to speculation that the fire – which sparked widespread unrest that led to the Brixton riots – had been racially motivated.
Appearing on BBC documentary Uprising, by Oscar-winning director Steve McQueen, Wayne and other survivors shared their moving testimonies from the fire, as well as sharing stories of the racist abuse they faced living in 1980s London.
Wayne Haynes, from south east London, survived the New Cross Fire after jumping out of a window and appeared on BBC documentary Uprising to share his story
The New Cross house fire was a fire that occurred during a party at a house in New Cross, south-east London, in the early hours of Sunday, 18 January 1981
Wayne had been hired to play music at the birthday party of Angela Jackson, who was turning 18 and Yvonne Ruddock, who was turning 16.
Speaking in the documentary, he recalled smelling burning before going downstairs and discovering the kitchen ablaze, before running back up to the second floor to warn other guests of the fire.
‘Everything has gone out, there’s no electric, I can’t see anybody’, said Wayne. ‘I don’t know what’s going on and all hell broke loose.
‘What I remember and what I saw was like watching an old Charlie Chaplin movie, where everything looks like it’s going in slow motion but it’s going really fast.
Denise Gooding, from Camberwell, lost her 14-year-old brother Andrew in the fire, and recalled how she escaped aged just 11 on the documentary
‘You have people screaming and shouting and trying to get out the window and other people pulling them back, the whole place just went mad and I remember it getting really hot, heat was coming up from underneath, it was just getting hotter and hotter.
‘I remember wiping sweat and turns out later on that sweat was my skin that was peeling off my face, it felt like I had sand all over my face and the more I wiped it was the more skin that was coming off my face.’
Wayne remembered feeling ‘really really scared’ as he ran back upstairs, but immediately directed himself towards the window where he climbed out and began to scale a drain pipe.
However Wayne, who tragically lost his girlfriend in the fire, was left with a smashed hip, broken thigh, shin and foot after the pipe came off the wall and he fell into the roof of an old structure.
Denise Gooding, from Camberwell, lost her 14-year-old brother Andrew in the fire, and recalled how she escaped aged just 11.
Reports after the tragedy that a white man had been seen throwing something into the house let to speculation the fire – which sparked widespread unrest that led to the Brixton riots – had been racially motivated
Pictured, Forensic police examining the house following the devastating fire which left 13 young black people dead
‘I was at the top of the house in the back when I heard someone shout fire from downstairs as they were running up the stairs, but it all happened so quickly, she said.
‘Yvonne started to run downstairs shouting for her mum, it just seemed like seconds before thick black smoke, you can’t see anything you can’t breathe’.
Denise remembers suddenly being lifted outside of the window: ‘I was coming down the drainpipe with someone and half way down I remember someone saying ‘You’re on your own now’ and I remember falling and hitting on my back’.
The documentary also explores the backdrop of racism in which the fire took place, with stories of verbal abuse, institutionalised prejudice and public demonstrations from the National Front.
‘Back in our day the police used to pick you up as a youngster, not phoning your parents as soon as they pick you up’, said Wayne.
‘They take you down the police station or they take you in the back of the van and they kick hell out of you and then just let you back out on the street….we used to get picked up just for loitering’.
PC George Rhoden told stories of abuse growing up, revealing that he was once taunted with a burning a cross outside his school, and within the police force in the 1970s and 80s.
PC George Rhoden told stories of abuse growing up, revealing that racists once burned a cross while wearing hoods outside his school, and within the police force in the 1970s and 80s
George Ruddock, who was caught up in the tragedy, believes that the fire was ‘100 percent’ a racist attack
Speaking of joining the police he said: ‘When I told my parents, they looked at each other, you could see there was fear in their eyes, they knew what the police where about, they knew they were racist.
‘They knew but they never ever said anything all thy did was support me. When I told my friends they all just looked at me, one of them stepped forward and said ‘Are you f****’ mad, you’re going to become a traitor’
The officer recalled getting aired with another PC who would taunt him with monkey noises through the radio and spotting an officer wearing a National Front badge before one of the group’s demonstrations.
In 1977, the National Front attempted to march from New Cross to Lewisham under the pretext of demonstrating against street crime, sparking various anti-fascist demonstrations which led to violent clashes between the two groups and police.
‘The police allowed these people to march through predominantly black areas knowing what it was going to cause, said Wayne.
The scene in Clifton Rise, New Cross, as police battle with National front demonstrators and anti-fascist protestors when marchers from both groups clashed
‘They aren’t coming past it, the teenagers, we were born here. Our parents came out, our big brothers came out, because we were not going to be intimidated in our own home’.
After the clash, local spots including the Moonshot Club in New Cross and the Albany’s theatre were burned down – the causes of which have never been determined.
‘Petrol bombs were getting thrown all over’, said Wayne. ‘They were taking white spirit an throwing it through letter boxes when your house is in darkness and throw a match through, that’s your exit blocked.’
George Ruddock, who was caught up in the tragedy, believes that the fire was ‘100 percent’ a racist attack, insisting: My sister before the fire started she saw somebody in a white car throw something in the house.
‘So a lot of people believe it was a racist fire attack on that party, that’s what they believe and all of us believe that, 100 percent, well why wouldn’t you?’