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Star's grief for crush victim uncle'

PUBLISHED: 15:30 04 March 2009 | UPDATED: 10:30 23 August 2010

BEVERLY HILLS, CA - JULY 26:  Judge Len Goodman attends the panel discussion for

BEVERLY HILLS, CA - JULY 26: Judge Len Goodman attends the panel discussion for "Dancing with the Stars" during the ABC 2005 Television Critics Association Summer Press Tour at the Beverly Hilton Hotel on July 26, 2005 in Beverly Hills, California. (Photo by Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images)

2005 Getty Images

CELEBRITY dance guru Len Goodman has told the Reporter of his family s heartache following the death of a relative in a WW11 disaster. The head judge on ITV s hit show Strictly Come Dancing sent a message to a small congregation at St John s Church near

CELEBRITY dance guru Len Goodman has told the Reporter of his family's heartache following the death of a relative in a WW11 disaster.

The head judge on ITV's hit show Strictly Come Dancing sent a message to a small congregation at St John's Church near Bethnal Green tube station on Sunday as they remembered the 173 people who died during a horrific crush in March 1943. Last month the Times revealed plans for a £700,000 Stairway to Heaven memorial at the site, spearheaded by Sandra Scotting, from Hartley.

Len Goodman, 64, of Ingress Park, Greenhithe, said his 'uncle' Dickie Corbett was one of those who perished in the disaster.

He said: "When Sandra phoned me I wanted to get behind her campaign because my family was devastated by Dickie's death - everybody was always talking about it. It was such a tragedy.

"I knew him as Dickie - that was his boxing name - but it was only when Sandra approached me that I found out his real name was Richard Coleman.

"He was an English and European champion fighter. Apparently he was very skinny - he was in the featherweight category."

On March 3, 1943, residents in the East End were expecting a German air raid and started heading towards the underground shelter. But when new anti-aircraft artillery started firing, locals mistakenly thought they were being bombed and in the panic victims were crushed 'like a pack of cards'.

Nearly all of Mr Goodman's family lived within about 90 yards of the station at the time.

He added: "It must have been so frightening, all those people just falling on top of each other.

"The fear they must have felt. It doesn't bear thinking about. I can't imagine what it was like just living through the Blitz, let alone something like that."

Born a year later, Mr Goodman never knew his 'uncle', who was actually his second cousin on his mother's side.

He said his parents took him to sleep in the shelter every night until the war ended in 1945, adding: "The council and the government covered the incident up because they wanted to keep morale up. It was a terrible thing that happened. It was a total cock-up - there was no rail, no warden and no grip on the steps.

"It is incredibly important to remember it. If it had happened outside wartime it would have been an enormous deal. But life was sort of cheapened during the war and it just got overshadowed by what was happening.

"There needs to be a fitting tribute to those that died, something to recognise the enormity of what happened that night."

Barbara Windsor, Prince Charles, and Prince William and Harry all sent messages of support to the service.

Call 01708 444154 or visit www.stairwaytoheavenmemorial.org

elizabeth.thronton@archant.co.uk

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