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Saturday, 17 November 2007, 09:59 GMT
The King's Cross fire 20 years on

Martin Edwards
BBC News, London

A simple family dinner will mark the 20th anniversary of Ivan Tarassenko's death.

The 25-year-old drummer with a "big laugh" was one of the 31 people who lost their lives during the King's Cross fire on 18 November, 1987.

After his death, his older sister Sophie headed the King's Cross Family Action Group - a support organisation for the injured and bereaved.

But 20 years on, the grieving process has reached a new stage.

Last moments

"It's become more about my brother and less about the fire," said the law lecturer from her home in Kensal Green, north-west London.

The "penniless" musician changed tubes at King's Cross station to make his way to a rehearsal in Notting Hill.

By chance, Sophie was also in the area.

"I was going to meet a friend outside the station at 8pm but trains were not stopping at King's Cross.

"I got off at Russell Square and got close to where I was meeting my friend when I saw ambulances and the fire brigade - I had no idea my brother was inside."

Two days later, she and her older brother formally identified Ivan's body.

"That was hell," she said. "But he wasn't a pile of ashes, I could still recognise him."

Much publicity followed in the aftermath as she desperately tried in vain to establish Ivan's last moments.

For the first three months I cried every day
Sophie Tarassenko

"My older brother is a scientist and he did weird stuff after Ivan's death," she said. "He worked out the mathematical probability that Ivan would be there at that time.

"It was so close to zero that it was mathematically irrelevant.

"My way of processing it was to have a co-existence in my head of being really angry but accepting that it was his time and there's nothing that can be done about it - sort of a Zen way if you like."

She added: "For the first three months I cried every day. The next three months I cried every other day. The next couple of years I cried once a month and after 20 years I cry two or three times a year. But it doesn't mean I don't think about him because I do - it just becomes less excruciatingly painful."

Father Jim Kennedy is the priest at the Blessed Sacred Church half a mile away in Copenhagen Street.

"At about 9pm I got the first call. It was from South Africa asking if somebody they knew was safe. After that the calls started flooding in."

By 1am, the church was held on standby by the emergency services as an overspill mortuary.

The church has built up a strong relationship with 30 of the 31 families who lost a loved one and says it act as the "spiritual home" for many of those affected.

Survivor guilt

Occasionally, somebody affected by the fire drops by.

"A chap came in to see us," said Fr Jim. "He was quite distressed. He used to go through King's Cross at 7.30pm each evening to go home.

"On that night he met a friend he hadn't seen in about eight years. They went out for a drink and he got home much later.

"He couldn't get over the fact that he was not in the station at the time of the fire and wasn't dead. It took us a while to help him through that."

A Mass dedicated to the dead will be read at the church on Sunday. Beyond that, there will be no fanfare.

"We wrote to all the families to ask if they wanted to do something for the anniversary but the overwhelming feeling is that they want to leave it where it is because in a sense everything has been done."