Warehouse for Murdoch’s Papers Burns; Company Blames Ousted Printers
Flames leaping 200 feet in the darkness gutted a huge warehouse belonging to Rupert Murdoch’s media empire today, and his top London executive said the fire was sabotage by extremist print workers fired in a four-month labor dispute.
The fire, described as one of the most spectacular in London since the World War II blitz, destroyed the warehouse on the south bank of the Thames River and burned 15,000 tons of newsprint used in making newspapers.
No injuries were reported, but damage was put at around $9 million.
Scotland Yard said it was treating the nightlong blaze as suspicious and called for witnesses to come forward with evidence of possible arson.
“An eyewitness who lives nearby said she saw two men lob firebombs over a wall and into the warehouse,” reported Murdoch’s Sun newspaper, the country’s biggest with about 4 million daily circulation.
Bruce Matthews, managing director of Murdoch’s News International parent company, said: “We pride ourselves on being one of the top-security storers in this country. I don’t believe a fire of this nature could have occurred without sabotage.”
For the last four months, some of the 5,500 print workers fired by News International for refusing to adopt new technology and staff cuts have picketed a new Murdoch high-technology printing plant in the Wapping district where his group’s Times, Sunday Times, Sun and News of the World newspapers are printed.
The print workers, who frequently clash with police and try to block newspaper shipments, have been demanding their old, high-paying jobs back. Murdoch has refused the demand but offered them a $75-million labor settlement.
A spokesman for one of the print unions, the National Graphical Assn., denied the accusations against print workers and said they were “disgusting.”