The Day Walls and the Wall met
Wednesday 1st November 1978 had been an average, unremarkable day for at least one police officer until about 10pm when emergency calls from the public reported a large building fire in the city centre.
The premises were the Knightsbridge Night Club on the corner of Duke Street and Kent Street. Owned by Paul Orr, son of the previous Liverpool Lord Mayor, the multi-storey building was only open Thursday – Saturday so was unoccupied, but the main danger was the fire spreading to the adjacent properties. The fire service eventually had a reported 60 fire-fighters engaged in attempting to control the blaze.
As is common in such cases, one of the first actions was to seal off the immediate area from the public. To this end, Con 3463”T” Stephen Walls, in his Ford RS2000 marked Traffic car, was detailed to close off the junction of Kent Street and Henry Street, behind the premises, which led to an area of housing.
He drove from Duke Street into Kent Street and, because there were fire hoses down and across the road, he started down Kent Street at walking pace as he went over the hoses. He had less than 100 yards to go to reach Henry Street and had not travelled even half that distance when there was a large, bright flash and tremendous explosion from the building, and the side wall buckled and then an estimated 20 foot section of wall erupted down and out across Kent Street.
The force of the blast shattered 9 windows in the nearby Warwick Castle pub, (whose tenant manager was one Bob Hope) showering its customers with glass but with no major injuries. People in the nearby flats reported their buildings’ shaking with some minor damage, dust and plaster everywhere, and at least one elderly couple who lived closest to the Club, were knocked off their feet.
The flash and bang gave Steve Walls a seconds warning and he saw the wall starting to go. Fortunately, he had not fastened his seat belt for such a short distance and was able to throw himself across the passenger seat before the rubble straddled his vehicle. The photographs opposite show the point of impact and damage to the police car and need no further comment but, what is not quite so apparent is that, just a couple of feet in front of his car, there landed some 6ft long coping stones, which would have done even more damage and could have resulted in a far more serious outcome.
Steve was trapped by the roof across him and unable to get out himself. Needless to say, others ran to help him. In short, despite the possibility of further explosions or wall collapse, Constable 2278 Geraint “Taffy” Jones of dog-handler fame, managed to support the roof of the car with his back, whilst an ambulance officer, Stephen Clarke, treated Steve Walls. With the firemen, they eventually got him out by cutting through the offside front windscreen pillar, and both officers went to hospital for a check up. Neither had sustained any serious injury, although Steve Walls was kept in as precaution. Subsequently, Taff and the ambulance man received an inscribed gift from the Chairman of the Police Authority, and Taff also was presented with a Police Award of Merit.
The fire was eventually brought under control but not before the Knightsbridge Club was gutted and adjacent premises damaged. It was concluded that the fire was malicious as the seat was next to where a gas pipe ran up the gable end of the Club. The author is not aware of any outcome of the investigation.