Stoke Newington pub blaze: 15 years on and Prince of Wales survivor is still searching for answers
- Credit: Archant
Two children were killed in a pub fire 15 years ago which left two others with horrendous burns. One of the survivors Vicky Knight tells Emma Bartholomew about its impact and how starring in a film helped overcome at least some of the trauma
Vicky Knight usually makes a trip to the site of the former Prince of Wales pub in Allen Road, Stoke Newington on July 27 every year.
But, ironically, this year a hospital appointment dealing with the scars of a fire there 15 years ago coincided with the anniversary – a cruel reminder of the horrific event that changed her life.
Vicky was just eight years old when one third of her body was burnt. Her uncle Kevin Knight and his wife Kate were running the pub at the time, and their son Charlie, five, died soon after he was rescued by firemen, along with Mrs Knight’s son from a previous marriage, 10-year old Christopher.
Pub regular and plumber, Ronnie Springer, 45, also lost his life after braving the searing heat to run upstairs and save Miss Knight and her 11-year old cousin Denise.
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He lowered the two girls to safety from a first floor window but was overcome by the heat and fumes and fell from the window on to a bench below, dying six weeks later. He was given a posthumous award for bravery.
Joe Knight, Charlie’s brother, survived but still needs treatment for burns.
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The mother of the dead boys, Kate Knight, was charged with murder but acquitted after a two week trial at the Old Bailey.
But for Vicky and her mother Kim, the case is not closed. Fifteen years on they desperately want whoever committed the crime to be brought to justice.
“Someone tried to ruin my life,” said Vicky. “Why hasn’t anything been done about it? There’s been no justice.”
Kim, whose brother Kevin and his wife Kate had taken over running the pub after their father died. added: “It is 15 years since it happened, and we are hoping to jog people’s memories and consciences, and some more evidence might come to light.”
Vicky was staying at the pub at the time, and Kim remembers the phone call from her brother at 6.30am on the day of the fire.
“They asked me how to spell Vicky’s surname, and said they needed to give it to the hospital. My brother said: ‘It’s alright we’ve had a bit of a fire’.
“I had to get up to the Homerton, and as I walked in my brother collapsed as he was told his eldest son Christoper had died. Charlie died the next day.”
“I thought it was electrical. It wasn’t until a few weeks in that the police said to us that it’s now a murder case and it was deliberate. It was devastating, obviously. It completely changed everybody’s life. Vicky came out of here one day and came back a completely different child.”
Instead of the trip to the pub where flats now stand, Vicky set off balloons in her garden at home to mark the 15 year anniversary.
She has suffered from depression because of the fire, but her life has changed since she posted a five minute video about the fire on YouTube one night four years ago.
“I woke up the net day and my Facebook was going mental. I had people from all over the world messaging me, with messages of support.”
On the back of this, a casting agent asked her if she wanted to be in a film about an acid attack victim’s struggle.
Despite having no prior acting experience, Vicky took on the challenge and the lead role. Dirty God will be released in September.
“I haven’t been involved in an acid attack, but every burns victim is treated the same,” she said. “It brought it all back. It was like reliving another story of what happened to me. All the feelings I felt as a kid, I felt them now. But it was quite relieving in a way. I could get everything out that I couldn’t over the years, and couldn’t understand.”
One scene in particular brought back memories, when the mother was explaining what the doctors had said.
“As a child I couldn’t understand, but as an adult it was like: ‘S*** this is real’,” she said.
Being in the film was like a “whole new world” for her.
“My director was over the moon with my acting. They were pretty shocked, as I’d never done it before.
“Before I did the film I was depressed and I didn’t’ go out anywhere, I didn’t go to work. Nothing. Over the past months I feel so much better in myself. It’s like a weight shifted off my shoulders. It’s a confidence thing being in front of the cameras, and the whole production was so supportive.
“If I started crying that was it, I’d have a 10 minute break to calm down.”
Vicky hopes the film will change other people’s lives as well her own.
“There are cruel people out there who will still bully you whether you have scars from an accident or a deformity,” she said.
“I want people to realise I’ve been through something awful.
“It’s been 15 years since the fire and there’s been no justice. I’ve had no professional help. All I’ve had is my mum and my family to pick me up when I’ve been down. It is hard there is no justice.”