21st October 1971

Shopping street explodes in Clarkston, killing more than 20

A four-inch gas main, laid in front of shops in Clarkston Toll, Renfrewshire, ruptured after six years underground, causing a massive explosion.

“Gas built up in a space beneath the shops which was unventilated and about which the Scottish Gas Board, who laid the pipe, had no knowledge,” reported the Glasgow Herald of 11 February 1972, at the end of a 19-day inquiry into the blast, which had occurred on 21 October the previous year. It continued, the jury “found that an explosion, said to be like detonating 300lb to 600lb of TNT, had been caused by gas building up in the space under the shops [and an embankment]. The embankment, it was claimed by one counsel at the inquiry, was the ‘cheap and skimpy’ replacement by Renfrew County Council of a retaining wall of concrete which had originally been planned but which the county council, the developers of the shops, and their architect had agreed to exclude.”

When the gas ignited, causing an explosion, 21 people (some sources say 22) were so badly injured that they later died of their injuries. A further 100 sustained injuries but didn’t die.

Dozens killed

One of the first papers to carry more than a brief report was the Coventry Evening Telegraph on the night of the blast. “About 15 shops and a 100yd stretch of Busby Road were involved and customers and assistants were buried under tons of masonry and rubble,” ran the front-page story. “The blast brought down the roofs of the shops, cars on a roof parking area falling with concrete and debris. Every window in a three-storey tenement on the other side of the road was blown in.”

At the time, only four were thought to have died, but the following day’s Aberdeen Press and Journal was already reporting that the number had risen to thirteen and, in the Belfast Telegraph, again on the 22nd, it was reported that a fifteenth body had been discovered. The day after the explosion, the Daily Mirror quoted Ronald Parker, head of the Scottish Gas Board, who said it was the “worst gas incident in Scotland”

No fault attributed

At the end of the public inquiry into the incident, the Birmingham Daily Post, of 11 February 1972, noted that “no fault could be attributed to anyone for the tragedy”, with the jury finding that “there was no evidence before us from which we were able to hold it proved what the cause of the ignition was. It has been proved to our satisfaction that the gas main fractured as a result of stress and corrosion…”

The inquiry had been expensive, and The Birmingham Daily Post revealed that “with legal costs estimated at around £10,000 a week, the inquiry is thought to have been the costliest of its kind in Scottish legal history – and the longest.”



Other events that occured in October

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