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Richard Howland was a 23-year-old police officer only months into the role at the time of the Summerland Fire in 1973.

It was his night shift week that first week of August, and so the first he knew of the fire was when a police officer woke him up and told him to start his shift early. In a borrowed car he drove to the end of the promenade, where they found the fire almost completely gone and the fire brigade beginning to sweep the building without hope of finding anyone else alive.

Richard tried to enter the building to help with the operation by the swimming pool, but the danger of falling glass forced him to rethink.

Now dark, Richard was then a part of the team who went up a fire escape on the seaward side of the building. Here, he was posted at the door out of which the fire service brought the remains of those who had perished in the fire. His role was to hold the light for the police surgeon as he carried out inspections to determine the gender of the victims before they were carried off on stretchers down the stairs.

Later, Richard was reposted to an alley around the back of the building, ensuring that no looters or curious members of the public tried to gain access. Stood there through the night, he heard the strange and eerie noises of bangs and cracks of bottles exploding in the bars inside.

50 years on, Richard reflects on how he has compartmentalised the experiences of that night, allowing him not to be overly affected by something which would have been too much for many.

This interview was conducted as a part of the Summerland Remembered project commemorating the 50th anniversary of the Summerland Fire on 2nd August 1973.


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  • Richard Howland interviewed by James Franklin (28 March 2023)

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  • Richard Howland in 1973