Donal MacIntyre: 5 reasons to watch Disasters that Changed Britain

James Nesbitt: Disasters That Changed Britain counts examines the causes behind and the legacies of some of the most devastating disasters to hit the UK in the last 60 years…

This March, History (formerly The History Channel) will be showing a special six-part series hosted by Cold Feet actor James Nesbitt which will examine devastating disasters across the UK over the last 60 years.

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Co-presented by award-winning investigative journalist Donal MacIntyre (Macintyre Investigates) and television host Anna Richardson (Super Shoppers, Naked Attraction), each self-contained episode will cover a unique tragic event in British history – including the 2017 Grenfell Tower tragedy, the Zeebrugge ferry disaster and the King’s Cross Fire (which both struck in 1987), the Ladbroke Grove rail crash of 1999, the Munich air crash of 1958 and the Piper Alpha oil platform explosion of 1988.

We spoke to Donal on why this innovative series is one to watch.

It balances forensics with sensitivity 


“It is a very human series. Each disaster is dealt with in both a human yet forensic way. We look at the countdown to the disasters and the identification of huge failures - human, industrial, corporate, technical, institutional failures which led to these disasters - and dissect them.

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"Part of that is to remind us one that of the human condition, the terrible loss of life, the management and construction errors that caused these disasters and lastly to remind us that one of these disasters there are lessons to be learned that will protect us from future ones,” Donal told us.

It explores the influence of the Hillsborough disaster

hillsborough disaster

From Hillsborough in 1989 to the Grenfell Tower fire of 2017, both recent and historic tragedies are explored. Donal said the way in which Hillsborough has set an example of how to expose and deal with future disasters is particularly emphasised:

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“The Hillsborough survivors have led the way and when it comes to any future inquiry into a public disaster the debt is owed to the friends and survivors of the Hillsborough disaster.

"They fought the good fight and they remind us that they got the findings that there was indeed an establishment conspiracy – and that the ones there to protect us and to tell the truth were in fact hiding the truth from the public and from the victims,” Donal said.

It utilises both historic evidence and the latest research

james nesbitt

“We are working with researchers who are much brighter than us, we are connecting with victims and dissecting the original documents. It is a collective. Effectively what we all have in common is an empathy and a recognition for how privileged we are among all those that woke up that one day, went off to work and never came back.

"All three of us wanted to break down the countdown to disaster to simply show how a multiplicity of simple errors and egos, cash and deadlines resulted in these catastrophic failures and disasters,” he said.

It looks at what went wrong and how to prevent future tragedies

grenfell tower

In addition to seeing how and why these tragedies occurred, the measures taken to prevent future disasters will also be examined.

“Transparency and public enquiry is so important," Donal explained. "A recognition that those who made the mistakes should be given the transparency to say I made the mistake instead of bunkering down into a siege mentality and defend their positions with lawyers for years and years.

"The truth usually outs, but by the time the truth outs, the people responsible are no longer in positions of power or they are dead.

"What we need is a speedier vehicle to the truth. We need to give a speedier vehicle for those responsible to come forward and say this is a mistake, I made it, I caused the loss of lives. Otherwise the lessons will be learned at a pace that is just too slow. I think we are on the way there in terms of public enquiries and the battle for the truth.”

It consults with victims and survivors

hillsborough victims

Victims, survivors and the family members left behind are all featured one each episode with unprecedented interview access in many cases.

“I went to the Grenfell site and personally spoke to people affected. The stories we heard were too gruesome to publish and broadcast. I think the important thing is that in the aftermath there was a collective sense of outrage and anger.”

James Nesbitt: Disasters that changed Britain starts Monday 19 March at 9pm.

History is one of 60 premium channels available on BT TV along with other channels such as E!, Comedy Central, Discovery and many more.

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