Bradford City stadium fire
Crowds on the pitch at the Valley Parade stadium after a stand caught fire Getty Images

Police have revealed the identity of the man who they believe was responsible for starting the fire at Bradford City's stadium that killed 56 people, according to a documentary.

An investigation into the 1985 fire at Valley Parade ruled the blaze started after a discarded cigarette fell through the wooden seating onto rubbish that had been accumulating for years.

A retired officer has told a BBC documentary − Missed Warnings: The Bradford City Fire – police now believe the man who dropped the cigarette was an Australian man called Eric Bennett, who has since died.

Retired detective inspector Raymond Falconer said a decision was made at the time not to release the name of the man who may have accidentally started the fire that killed 56 people.

Falconer told the BBC: "He said he'd been at the match, he'd been sat in the stand, right where we knew the seat of the fire had taken place.

"He said he smoked a cigarette, dropped the cigarette onto the floor in front of him, went to put his foot on it, but it had unfortunately dropped through, he said, a knot hole."

Investigators reconstructed the area of the stand where the blaze occurred in order to work out who sat where. Detectives eventually tracked down all the survivors expect two Australians, one of whom was Bennett.

Falconer said he got a version of events from Bennett after he interviewed him in the wake of the disaster.

He said: "They (the two men) rushed to the back of the stand [and] got hold of some policemen. He told them what was happening. The policeman very quickly started to evacuate the stand. But the rest... Well, we know the tragic result of what happened. The truth is, that he dropped a cigarette and he was quite unequivocal about it. He'd dropped the cigarette that started the fire."

Bennett's family told the BBC he never revealed to them he dropped the cigarette.

Falconer added: "He was obviously troubled. And I felt extremely sorry for him. And this would be weighing on his mind for the rest of his life."

Bradford City stadium fire
Bradford City fans pay tribute to the 56 fans who died in the Valley Parade stadium fire in 1985 Getty Images

The documentary is being shown the day after the 30th anniversary of the tragedy, with a commemorative service taking place at Bradford's Centenary Square to pay tribute to those that died.

More than 1,000 people, including the victim's families, gathered in the square – many of whom wore the claret and amber colours of Bradford City – as the names of all 56 people who died were read out as the City Hall clock chimed out.

The anniversary was proceeded by claims in a new book that claims the fire at Valley Parade was the ninth to have occurred at businesses owned or linked to its former owner, Stafford Heginbotham.

The book, Fifty-Six: The Story Of The Bradford Fire, was written by Martin Fletcher, a Bradford City fan who lost four members of his family at the fire.

While never directly accusing the businessman of starting any of the fires, Fletcher asks, "Could any man really be as unlucky as Heginbotham had been?" and called for a fresh investigation into the disaster.

Sir Oliver Popplewell, who led the original 1985 inquiry into the fire that ruled it had been started by accident, dismissed the claims that foul play may have been involved.

He told the BBC: "I think the conclusion that this was arson is mistaken.

"There's absolutely no need for another inquiry. I mean I think the police ought to have a look and get the fire authorities to have another look at these previous incidents and report. But I suspect they'll find nothing of any value."

Missed Warnings: The Bradford City Fire will be shown on BBC1 in Yorkshire and Lincolnshire on 12 May at 10.45pm and on BBC2 nationally on 22 May at 11.20pm.