A TOP detective, who interviewed the fan whose dropped cigarette sparked the Bradford City Fire disaster, has condemned as "scurrilous"suggestions that the tragedy was not an accident.

Raymond Falconer, a detective inspector with the Major Crime Unit at the time of the 1985 disaster, said yesterday: "There are no shades of grey about this. Unequivocally, it was an accident."

A controversial new book, Fifty-six - The Story of the Bradford Fire, by City fan Martin Fletcher - who lost three generations of his family at the ground - suggests the fire might not have been an accident and claims the then club chairman, Stafford Heginbotham, owned or was connected with business premises which were involved in eight other fires resulting in major insurance payouts.

The family of Mr Heginbotham, who died in 1995, has branded any suggestion that the Valley Parade fire was deliberate as "sickening" and "preposterous".

Yesterday Mr Falconer, 69, who is retired, said: "We were fully aware that Mr Heginbotham had a 'history' in relation to his businesses, and it was one of the aspects of the investigation. But the cause of the fire was unequivocally accidental. There is no doubt it was caused by a discarded cigarette. Any suggestion or insinuation to the contrary is scurrilous."

He said the allegations in the book were "absolutely unfounded".

Mr Falconer told how a replica of Valley Parade's Block C was built in the gymnasium at the Bradford City police headquarters and a reconstruction made of events on the tragic day.

He said the police investigation into the cause of the fire had been meticulous and thorough.

"Our investigations led myself and Detective Sergeant Frank Vowden to a house in Bradford. We knocked on the door and an old man answered and said 'I've been waiting for you.'"

Mr Falconer said the man had emigrated to Australia but visited Bradford with his son and had gone to the fateful game.

"What he told me devastatingly honest. There was no prevarication.

"He told me he and his son were sat in the stand. He lit a cigarette. When he had smoked it he dropped it to the floor, intending to put his foot on it. But it went through a hole in the floor. He thought nothing more of it but then he noticed whisps of smoke coming through the hole. He and his son poured coffee down the hole and the smoke disappeared.

"Then it started again. He got up and went to the back of the stand to get the assistance of a steward. But by then the fire had taken hold."

Mr Falconer said he took a statement from the man and the inquest found the cause of the fire to be accidental.

He added: "It is an absolute travesty to suggest that the fire was deliberate because of Mr Heginbotham's unfortunate history with his own businesses. I have no doubt that the man I interviewed was the man who dropped the cigarette and caused the fire. The only mystery was why he did not come forward. His son went back to Australia, but he said 'I am going to wait here until the police come.'

"He did his best to put the fire out and did his best to alert someone. But there's no doubt that was the cause.

"I feel sad for Mr Fletcher that he cannot accept it was an accident. It is unfortunate that he lost so many members of his family. But if he is making these allegations he should have researched it properly. I would suggest it doesn't help his grieving - or anybody else's."