25 years ago today: Huge fire rips through Littlewoods in Chesterfield, killing two pensioners and injuring 80

Today marks 25 years since the tragic Littlewoods fire in Chesterfield which claimed the lives of two pensioners and injured another 80.

Monday, 7th May 2018, 7:00 am
Picture shows people trying to escape the Littlewoods fire by climbing out of the windows.
Picture shows people trying to escape the Littlewoods fire by climbing out of the windows.

The blaze at the department store on May 7, 1993, was started by then 15-year-old boy Peter Lomas, of Old Whittington, and he was sentenced to six life sentences.

Speaking about that day, Mike Wilson, who was editor of the Derbyshire Times at that time, said: “It started like any other Friday morning at the Derbyshire Times and little did we know that it would turn out to be one of those days that remains etched in the memory.

“At that time the different editions of the DT were published throughout Thursday, so Friday’s routine usually involved dealing with any issues from that week’s paper and beginning the planning process for the next one.

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Firefighters at the scene of the Littlewoods blaze.

“The first inkling that something was happening at Littlewoods came from a mid-morning call to the office. All we knew was that there was a fire - it was only when a reporter, dispatched to check things out, rang the news desk that it became clear that this was a major incident.

“Like all such events the facts emerge thick and fast. Soon our reporter was informing us that smoke was billowing out of the store and frightened customers fleeing the fire, had climbed out of first floor windows and were perched on ledges overlooking the market place. Other people were being brought out by firemen suffering from severe smoke inhalation and taken to hospital.”

He added: “Then came the tragic news that two people had died in the blaze and the first murmurings that the fire might not have started accidentally. That proved to be the case and over the coming months the paper followed all of the developments and the subsequent inquest and court case.

“In May 2018 the Derbyshire Times would cover online a similar tragedy as it unfolded, updating reports minute-by-minute as new information emerged.

The victims of the Littlewoods fire.

“Back in 1993 that was not the case and we had to wait for a week to record for history the events of that fateful day. Yet even after 25 years I can picture in my mind – as others will be able to – dramatic images from that day. Time has not diminished the impact it had on me and I am sure many others who were in Chesterfield that May morning.”

According to an online report from the Independent newspaper, Nottingham Crown Court was told Lomas started the fire because he ‘liked seeing fire engines in action’.

The court was also told that Lomas watched on as the fire rescue took place. He also started three more fires in shops and the town’s library.

A few months later, in September, Lomas apparently went on to set alight his room at a secure unit in an attempt to take his own life.

Lomas pleaded guilty to two charges of manslaughter and three charges of damaging property. He also admitted a further charge of reckless arson and was sentenced in December.

In 2001, the Mirror newspaper reported that Lomas had been granted day release and was set to be given a new identity before his full release in 2002.

It is not known whether Lomas was released and given a new identity.

A number of our readers posted on our Facebook page to share their memories of the day.

Jane Clarke wrote: “I was shopping in town with my friend and my youngest daughter who was almost 3. We’d just left Littlewoods when the alarms went off and the fire engines arrived. I counted my blessings that day. My daughter still has a fear of fire engines and sirens even now. RIP to those who lost their lives.”

Louise Blackburn said: “My grandma and great aunt were in one of your published photos of spectators looking shocked.”

Donna Littlewood wrote: “I was at brookfield school and heard the news about it there so afterwards went for a walk to town as couldn’t believe it. If my memory serves me right there had been other fires in the area including the library all started by same individual.”

Trev Bailey said: “I was on the market when that happened and a quick thinking workman working further up the High Street pulled his high topped van down and a few of us were helping folks off the van as they could just about get onto it from the ledge. This was well before the fire engines arrived so probably saved more lives or injury from jumping off.”

And Mary Green wrote: “Had just walked out of the shop with my son when it went up, was going to go back upstairs but thank goodness we didn’t !!”