Why Summerland remains the Isle of Man's forgotten disaster and how it should be remembered

Despite being the Isle of Man's greatest tragedy, few have heard of the Summerland fire.

Most will know of Hillsborough, many will remember Grenfell, and almost everyone is now aware of the Post Office scandal.

Yet, on a small island in the Irish sea, lies what remains of a building where 50 people lost their lives.

A disaster that shook the Manx community to its core, and left many families grieving alone in the UK.

Last year, we set out to mark the 50th anniversary by giving a platform to those still suffering.

An opportunity to share the horrific events that unfolded and hear of the lingering injustice still felt by many today.

Summerland ablaze on 2 August 1973. Credit: Summerland: The Forgotten Disaster/ITVX

Before filming began, we were acutely aware of the small number of people who had previously spoken out about the disaster.

Some had spoken publicly, but the story never appeared to reach a wider audience in the way that it perhaps should have done.

If you asked someone on the island about Summerland, they would have likely heard about it, but often be reluctant to talk about it.

Meanwhile, the majority of people in the UK were unfamiliar with Summerland as a leisure complex, let alone the disaster that unfolded.

That was until one survivor took the brave decision to speak publicly about her trauma for the first time on camera.

Jackie Hallam was stuck in the Summerland fire at 13 year's old, losing her mum Lorna and best friend Jane. Credit: Summerland: The Forgotten Disaster/ITVX

Jackie Hallam was holidaying in the Isle of Man with her mum Lorna, and best friend Jane.

On that fateful night in 1973, the trio were inside Summerland as the fire ripped through the complex.

Both Lorna and Jane died in the blaze.

Jackie escaped with severe burns, and a trauma that would last a lifetime.

Last year, Jackie faced her trauma once more - returning to the Isle of Man and revisiting the Summerland site for the first time in 50 years.

All of which highlighted the lived experience of those still suffering from the fire, half a century later.

Thousands were inside the Summerland complex when the fire took hold. Credit: Summerland: The Forgotten Disaster/ITVX

It was Jackie's story that really alerted people to the shock and scale of what happened that night, and after our 45-minute interview, it became clear how silenced she had felt in the years that came before.

Unable to speak out due to that feeling of isolation.

But once she had spoken, that relief soon turned to frustration - a sense of injustice that had been festering in the years that followed.

It did not take long for a campaign group to form, calling on the Isle of Man Government to apologise for any governance failings at the time of the blaze.

Alongside a commitment to acknowledging that the 'death by misadventure' verdict, given to those who died, was wrong.

A verdict that implies the individual is to blame for their own death, relinquishing any responsibility from anybody else.

Chief Minister Alfred Cannan apologised in Tynwald, the Isle of Man parliament, for any 'governance failings' surrounding Summerland. Credit: Summerland: The Forgotten Disaster/ITVX

This was the line that would bring the story into the present day.

The Post Office scandal, Hillsborough, contaminated blood - all examples where the blame is taken away from those in control, and placed firmly on the victims.

And it is that sense of injustice that is also felt by the 'Justice for Summerland' campaigners today.

Because while the Chief Minister of the Isle of Man did make a historic apology for any governance failings, he has not committed to looking into the 'death by misadventure' verdicts.

But this story appears far from over.

As Jackie concludes in the documentary: "That verdict will not stand us death by misadventure, but we will be taking it further, it doesn't end here."

‘Summerland: The Forgotten Disaster’ tells the story of survivors and bereaved families, still feeling the effects of the fire. Credit: Summerland: The Forgotten Disaster/ITVX

'Summerland: The Forgotten Disaster' is available now to watch on ITVX.

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