Clwyd Tribunal of Inquiry would do well to
examine the circumstances surrounding a mysterious arson attack in which
five people died and which lead to the apparent suicides of two others,
following allegations of links between the deaths and the fact that two of
the victims had been in care at a Welsh children's home.
Author Pete Sawyer wrote in 1997 and the article below which has stood the test of time Researcher on the article Andrea Davison
Friends and relatives of the two victims,
Adrian Johns, who died in the arson attack in April 1992, and Lee Homberg,
who died of an apparent drugs overdose nearly three years later, are
convinced that the two brothers were silenced because 'they knew too much'
about the drugs and porn trade to which they had been introduced while in
Both Adrian and Lee had been abused at Bryn Alyn Community children's home,
Wrexham. Lee later gave evidence against the head of Bryn Alyn, John Allen,
sentenced to six years imprisonment in February 1995 for offences of
Although East Sussex police files on the incidents remain officially
closed, it is understood that Brighton CID detectives have also been
candidly re-assessing the case-files in the light of the possible
connection with Bryn Alyn.
The arson attack on the elegant Regency converted townhouse in Palmeira
Avenue, Hove, took place during the early hours of Easter Saturday, April
1992. The intended target was a third floor flat, where a small party was
Most people at the party were gay and the residents of the flat were
well-known within the Brighton gay community. Because of this, few have
wanted to come forward to talk to the police after the fire.
The only staircase in the building acted like a giant chimney flue. Flames
and smoke rapidly spread up to and through the open door of the third floor
flat, where the party was winding down.
Two people, AIDS counsellor Mabel Roberts, 48, and Andrew Manners, 29, died
from multiple injuries trying to jump to safety. Seven people managed to
escape by clambering down a drainpipe at the back of the building. One, Tim
Sharpe, celebrating his 28th birthday, fell to his death after losing his
Adrian Johns, 32, and another man, Paul 'Tony' Jones, 33, remained trapped
in the flat and died of smoke inhalation. Their bodies were so badly
charred that they had to be identified by dental records.
Later that morning Trevor Carrington, 41, one of the invited guests to the
party, took the train to Wivelsfield, ten miles to the north of Brighton.
He is thought to have buried his wallet, passport and a watch in nearby
woods, perhaps as a symbolic gesture. He slashed his wrists and tried to
overdose on a mixture of Paracetamol and alcohol. But at the last minute he
staggered to a nearby phone box and called the emergency services.
In hospital in Haywards Heath Carrington confessed to his brother that he
had started the fire as 'a prank'. He said that he had set light to a settee
in the entrance hall with his lighter just as he was leaving the building
with his partner.
Carrington walked out of the hospital soon afterwards. But within hours he
was dead. He fell into the path of an oncoming lorry on a quiet country
road. Police regarded it as suicide.
Carrington's confession to his brother enabled the police to close their
files on the tragedy. It provided a simple and clean explanation. But
although there is no suggestion that the fire was started by anyone other
than Carrington, there remains the suspicion in the minds of Adrian's two
surviving brothers and close family friends that Carrington may have been
put up to the job by someone else.
Carrington was unemployed yet police allegedly told the family that he had
maintained a bank account in the Isle of Man. Just before he died he
allegedly told his brother that he wanted to go to the Isle of Man to get
some money and then go on to Holland. A chequebook for the account was
found after his death. Police told one of Adrian's brothers that some
£20,000 was transferred into this account before the fire, but later they
dismissed it as 'irrelevant' to the arson attack.
Carrington's simple confession also did not explain all of the facts of the
Fire Brigade investigators found that two areas of the stairs had been so
badly burnt that the fire-fighters' feet had gone straight through the
floorboards. However floor areas closest to the settee - the supposed
starting point of the fire - were relatively untouched. This led fire
investigators to consider the possibility that the fire was started in
three places and not one. Something highly combustible - perhaps petrol -
may have been present at those points on the stairs where the
fire-fighters' feet had gone through.
The Brigade directed the forensic team bought in by the Home Office to
these 'suspect' spots as the fire brigade has no facilities to carry out
forensic testing itself. Although the Home Office experts didn't disagree
with the fire brigade's assertion that the spots were 'suspect', the leads
were not followed up. Despite the forensic pointers this crucial piece of
evidence, which suggested that the arson attack was not a mere prank and
must have been planned in advance of the party, was ignored. The inference
was, that Carrington's simple confession was not the whole truth: he must
have bought something along to the party with which to fan the flames.
Adrian Johns' brother, Lee Homberg, had wanted to be an actor and hence had
changed his surname. He received severe burns to his thighs and legs in the
fire, and was, according to a close family friend, quite convinced that the
fire was more than just a prank. Some of the partygoers knew about the gay
sex and drugs scene which revolved around the former Bryn Alyn residents -
including details of sexual liaisons with leading businessmen and
It has been suggested that Lee may also have accessed computer data
detailing financial transactions between South Coast drug dealers and those
running a porn video and rent-boy network.
The week before the fire, John Allen met Adrian in the small Brighton flat
he shared with his brother. Both brothers had been asking Allen for
'compensation' for their ordeal while they were in his care. They felt they
had a legitimate claim.
They had been gathering as much evidence as they could against Allen and
may even have invited him to the party with the intention of 'having it
out' with him for once and for all. Allen didn't show up.
After the fire Lee made a slow recovery from his injuries. He remained
deeply angry about the way the coroner's inquest into the fire had been
handled. At the inquest, two of the families of the dead had walked out in
protest at what was seen as the coroner's seemingly inexplicable refusal to
call the owner of the building as a witness.
At the time of the fire the building was linked through a chain of
companies to Nicholas Hoogstraten, noted for his somewhat ruthless approach
to the business of letting property. Hoogstraten reputedly owns or controls
more than a thousand properties in the Brighton area.
The building had no fire-escape despite years of pressure to install one
from Hove Borough Council. Hoogstraten was not called by the coroner to
explain this, allegedly because of the difficulty in proving that he was
the owner of the property, although it is understood that a senior Brighton
detective had spoken to Hoogstraten about the fire soon after it happened.
Together with other relatives of the fire victims Lee fought for 18 months
to get a fresh inquest into the blaze. However the High Court ruled that,
although some aspects of the inquest were inadequate and unsatisfactory, no
purpose would be served by a new hearing.
There were allegations of a high-level Masonic cover-up.
In January 1995 Lee gave evidence at John Allen's trial. Shortly afterwards
and just days before he was due to receive a very substantial pay-out from
the Criminal Injuries Compensation Board he was killed by a suspected drugs
He was found dead in his flat on the 1st February 1995 lying face-down on a
mattress in his lounge. Lee was a registered heroin addict but a close
family friend says that he knew exactly what he was doing: 'He wasn't that
stupid. Often he would flush drugs he was given down the toilet rather than
take them. It was all part of his act.'
Soon after his death police raided Lee's flat and removed, among other
things, a video cassette thought to have been a compilation of porn films
made by people - and involving children - Lee knew. The two surviving
brothers, Chris and John Johns, remain to this day convinced that Lee and
Adrian were murdered. Chris lives in fear for his life and has barricaded
his council flat against possible intruders. He has installed high security
locks and steel shuttering over the windows, believing that 'they' -
whoever they are - could come at any time to kill him.