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Easties 8 mar 1994

Phil Mitchell gets handy with the petrol as a favour to Frank Butcher.

In March 1994, one of EastEnders most memorable storylines was the car lot fire which was between Phil Mitchell and Frank Butcher. Frank was in dire need of money and persuaded Phil to return him a favour he had done to Phil by having him torch Frank's Auto's so he could claim on the insurance. But a homeless boy died in the fire, starting a string of events for Phil and Frank.

Build up to the scam[]

In December 1992, Pat Butcher accidentally killed a girl in a hit and run incident. This lead to her company Pat Cabs closing down while she was in prison for 6 months for manslaughter. In November 1993, her husband Frank tried to run the business himself but ended up in debt and a rival cab firm with a fearsome reputation forced Frank out of business. Also due to the recession, very few cars were being sold and Frank ended 1993 in financial ruin. He was by then £1000s of pounds in debt.

In January 1994, the ceiling at the Butcher house, No 41 Albert Square was leaking and Frank was told the costs could be £8000 to fix it. Frank opted for a £500 quicker job, replace guttering and a few paint jobs. His debts kept mounting up. That month he sold his old flat to Phil Mitchell for a rock bottom price. Phil suggested that if Frank wants to get out of debt, that something should happen to the cars on his forecourt if they are insured. Frank dismissed the idea as a friend of his got 7 years for arson and 3 years for fraud. Frank thought he had some money spare for a bit to pay off some debts but ended up defaulting on several payments and sold Michelle Fowler a car he did not know was stolen. Frank paid the money back. He sold Phil his share of the Bridge Street Cafe for £5000. That month, in February 1994, Frank felt Phil owed him a favour so took up his suggestion to fire the car lot. They chatted about this alone at Frank's house, away from people. Phil initially agreed and when Frank said again that he wanted Phil to torch the car lot, Phil was quite reluctant, knowing the consequences if caught. Frank kept bending his ear and he took him to the car lot one night and told him to burn it and Phil said he will get it sorted the following night.

Phil sets fire to the car lot

Phil sets fire to the car lot

The following day, Frank became moody and dismissive, he was worried Phil would back out of the deal. Phil got the petrol ready. Frank kept asking Phil for reassurance that he would do the job. Phil promised he would do it, even if he was reluctant.

The arson attack[]

Easties 10th march 19944

A distressed Frank watches the car lot burn, and a body is pulled out.

In the early evening 8 March 1994, Phil was visited by Frank who yet again wanted to make sure Phil would torch the place. Phil said for about the 5th time that he would do it and do it very late that night. He suggested that Frank empties most of the petrol out of the tanks so the fire does not get out of control too much. Frank then left Phil alone to get ready for the job.

That night, at 8pm Frank left the Vic early and sat on the sofa all evening, worried. He fell asleep on the sofa. Phil went out for a meal that night with his brother Grant Mitchell but was moody and Grant sensed he wanted to get back for something. And Kathy Beale also said Phil had been in a mood all day, something he denied. At about 11pm, it was well into the night and everyone was asleep and Phil came back from his meal out and doused the cars in petrol, then struck the match. But as Frank had left the car petrol tanks full, a car exploded just seconds after Phil struck the match. Phil fell over but then quickly ran off into the night. He ran back into The Arches and he hid there. Frank was asleep on the sofa when Pat, Ricky Butcher and David Wicks woke him to say the car lot is on fire. They quickly ran out as the ambulance and fire brigade arrived. Everyone stood and watched. Frank was pleased Phil had done the deed but his delight soon turned to panic when the fire brigade pulled someone out of one of the burnt out cars and into the ambulance. Frank stood and cried, saying "Oh my God. No, No".

Aftermath, 9 March to early April 1994[]

The fire was put out and Frank went off for a walk to be by himself. The person in one of the cars was taken to hospital. The police came, DI Trent and DC Cornwall visited the Butcher's house. Frank walked into The Arches and saw Phil there, Frank then walked out, slamming the door behind him. He then went back home to see Trent and Cornwell waiting for him. They asked him a few questions such as what he did when he has finished for the day and what time he left the Vic. Frank said about 8pm. The police said they would have to pop back tomorrow and then left. Frank quickly found comfort in a scotch bottle. The following day it was raining and many locals gathered to watch the forensics team look through the wreckage. Grant said that he was talking to a policeman and the boy who was taken away last night was a dosser from nearby. Frank then turned up asking them if they are all having a good look. Grant asked Frank if he knew who fired the car lot while Arthur Fowler tried to have sympathy for Frank.

DI Trent and DC Cornwell returned and said to Frank that the lad had died. Frank was overcome with grief. They asked if anyone would have wanted to fire the car lot on purpose. Frank did not mention the incident with Hammond, the rival cab firm. Frank lied and said that his business accounts had gone up in flames when the police asked to see them for inspection. The police then left for now. When they left Ricky asked why Frank did not mention Hammond. Frank got drunk on scotch and sat up all night while Pat and Ricky and David were down the pub. That night, Phil visited Frank and Frank angrily scolded Phil for not checking the cars before setting the car lot alight. He called Phil a few names, and Phil took his punishment before trying to reassure Frank. Phil said if they say one wrong word they could be banged up for a very long time but if they keep straight everything will be OK. He then left and that night Frank threw a vodka bottle into the car lot wreckage.

A few days later, in mid March, Trent and Cornwell returned with more questions having found out more things. They found out all about Hammond and the fact that Frank had done business with Phil recently. Trent wanted to know why Frank did not mention Hammond before. Frank said he was scared of Hammond and if he had mentioned him, he was worried that the police would charge an innocent person. Hammond had a watertight alibi anyway. Trent and Cornwell visited Phil Mitchell who said the same as Frank, that they barely knew each other and drunk in the same pub. Trent thought they had concocted a story to tell the police. Trent knew that Phil and Frank were practically family (due to Frank's son once being wed to Phil's sister). DC Cornwell mentioned the flammables in the garage but Phil said it goes with the job. They then left and never questioned Phil again. The police heard that Frank had been doing alright for himself financially. They carried out their inquiries and when questioning Sanjay Kapoor and his mate Richard Cole, Cole said Frank had been made bankrupt recently. They then arrested Frank for manslaughter and trying to defraud and insurance company.

Frank was later released on bail after a night in the cells. Sanjay let slip to the Mitchells that Tricky Dicky Cole may have put his foot in it. Phil and Grant thought Tricky was a coppers nark. In the Vic, Tricky made sarky remarks as usual and Phil and Grant took him out the back saying that no one grasses round here. Tricky made another jibe and Grant and Phil laid into him but Sharon came round the corner. They let him go saying they were watching him.

Frank carried on drinking and Phil was worried that he would say a wrong word to the police. However the case was soon dropped due to lack of evidence. Frank was mightily relieved as was Phil. Frank begun cheering up and that night had a few pints down the Vic. The following morning he was sure the insurance money would come through and he felt on top of the world. He suggested to Pat they have a holiday.

Later that day, Frank went into The Vic for a drink, in his cheerful mood but Arthur Fowler came in to say a man was sniffing round the ashes of the car lot. Frank's cheer turned to panic as he was worried it was the old bill again. It was just the loss adjuster from the insurance company, Mr Holder. Phil said this was good news. Holder said he came to look at his accounts as the insurance company insisted due to bureaucracy. Holder said the police had told him the business accounts had gone up in the flames. But unbeknown to Frank's scam, Pat showed him them when he called round when Frank was out. Holder was very surprised the accounts had survived. The business accounts would show that Frank was broke and the fire was very likely a scam to claim insurance.

Frank came home in a cheery mood to hide the business accounts again but Pat quietly called him into the kitchen to say Holder was here and looking at all of the books. Frank fell apart and came over all weak but had to hide his panic to Pat. He knew his scam had been rumbled and no insurance money would come through. When the loss adjuster left, Pat was cheerful but wondered why Frank was so down seeing as he had been cheerful himself a few hours ago.

Frank then fell into a deep depression and spent the next few days, morose and despondent. Pat suspected something was wrong, and about the business accounts as well, and wondered why Frank went from being cheerful again to being depressed. That night, Robbie Jackson  and his mate Kevin took Frank's Mercedes joyriding and wrote it off after crashing into Michelle Fowler's wall. Frank sat on the sofa all night even more depressed. Pat said he was wallowing in self pity. Frank sat up all night.

In the morning, Frank was still sat on the sofa. He stood by the lounge window all day, almost in tears. Frank said to Ricky that if he ever did anything bad to him he never meant to and for him to always remember that. He then said to Pat he was going out for a walk and for her to give him a kiss.

Frank leaves Walford in April 1994[]

After Frank said to Pat he was going for a walk, he then slowly walked up Bridge Street aimlessly. He was at rock bottom. He was making a secret departure from Walford, not telling anyone.

Over the next few days, Pat became increasingly worried about where Frank had gone to. She phoned round all his friends and family who had not seen him. She had many sleepless nights, worrying where Frank was. A couple of weeks later she even gave Frank's description to the morgues in London. One night she sat in the gardens of Albert Square alone when she saw a man with a trilby looking at cars in the car lot. The street lighting made her able to see him. She was excited as she thought it was Frank. She approached the man from behind saying "Frank where have you been" until the man turned around and it was not Frank. She apologised and he walked off.

Weeks of worrying where Frank was went by. Pat took any extra hours she could cleaning so as to try and feed Frank's children. She was further into debt. She even asked Ian Beale for a loan. The insurance firm sent her a letter, she was hoping it was coming through but when she opened it, she read that they had denied the insurance claim. She tried to appeal it but they said the claim was not valid. David Wicks was supportive to Pat and rebooted the car lot, naming it Deals On Wheels. That same month, Pat got news from Frank's daughter Diane that he had not died but had simply run away and had visited her to tell her about the car lot fire. Pat always suspected deep down that Frank had torched the lot. Diane said that Frank was not got to return to her.

Phil was confronted by Pat and started drinking again. He confessed about the car lot fire to Grant, saying if he did not do it, Frank would have fired the car lot himself or got someone else to do it. Grant said Phil needs to stop drinking as if anything gets out for fraud, manslaughter and arson then Phil could be looking at 10 to 15 years in prison. Phil bucked his ideas up to save himself.

When David Wicks set up Deals On Wheels, Pat started to get on with her life, knowing Frank was not coming back and David and Ricky were soon making money at the car lot. Pat started to get more money coming in again. In Decemebr 1994, at a car auction, Pat met car trader Roy Evans. In January 1995 they went for a meal together.

Pat and Roy became closer and in 1995, he soon moved into her house and bought into the car lot. April 1995 was a year since Pat last saw Frank but she was getting on with her life.

In November 1995, however, Pat got a phone call from Frank's psychiatrist. He had been in a mental home for a while and had been found by a roadside in a terrible state after sleeping rough. Pat was sure that Frank would not return to Walford upon his release from the hospital. Roy was settled in at No 41, running Deals On Wheels with David and in a happy relationship with Pat.

Frank returns in December 1995[]

Easties 25 dec 1995 2

Christmas came to Albert Square in December 1995. Pat organised a Christmas party at her and Roy's house. Everyone attended. During the party the doorbell rang. Ricky answered it. Pat and Roy told the children that Santa was coming to visit. But when the visitor walked into the lounge from the hallway it was none other than Frank Butcher.

He had returned to his house, 20 months after he walked out on it and his family, presumably never to return. Pat's cheer turned to anger and she asked all the guests to leave and Janine to go upstairs. Ricky went to The Vic. It was just Pat, Frank and Roy in the house. Frank and Roy began arguing as this was the first time they had met and Frank thought Roy had taken everything Frank had, his house, his wife and his business. Pat and Frank had a quiet word with each other in the kitchen and she said he still owns the house as his name is still on the deeds. She even wanted a divorce while he was away. She said for months she had sleepless nights worrying about him, and took any job she could, cleaning toilets and tables to feed his children and keep the house together, amongst the many debts. Frank soon left. He stayed in a B&B nearby but spent a lot of time visiting Ricky and Bianca. One time a drunken Bianca and Tiffany Raymond saw Frank and laughed, saying he was Ricky's dad.

Phil could not take the pressure and started drinking, Frank's return had bought everything back for Phil. Phil even attacked Frank when he knocked pregnant Kathy over but one time Frank came to see Phil in the Arches and confronted him. Phil took the lecture from Frank.

In January 1996, Frank was given a job at The Vic. He said to Roy Evans that he came to get his wife, his house and his business back. Phil and Frank were worried when the the police reopened the case about the car lot fire two years earlier. Phil and Frank planned to meet and discuss confessing but at the same time, Frank slept with Pat but then decided to return to Manchester. This time Frank left Walford and said a proper goodbye to Pat. Phil had gone to meet Frank at the car lot but as he was tired and drunk, he fell asleep as someone torched the car lot, around the 2nd anniversary of the first one. Phil survived though. Phil hit the bottle and when he became a father, he became even more dependent on alcohol.

Frank returned for Ricky's wedding in 1997 and decided to return to Walford permanently in 1998 once he started dating Peggy Mitchell. Due to what happened before, Phil was very mistrusting of Frank. After Frank abandoning Pat when the going got tough 4 years earlier, and leaving Phil at risk of any more police investigations over the car lot fire, Phil and Grant said if Frank mistreats her then they will kill him. Frank soon became landlord of the Queen Vic again and even formed a bond with former nemesis Roy Evans.

Long term effects of the arson and manslaughter on Frank and Phil[]

In 2011, over 17 years after the fire, Phil's son Ben Mitchell tried to find out more about his dad's past, and any past misdemeanors. He obtained a file from Jack Branning, a local PC, which had Phil Mitchell as a suspect in the car lot fire. The 1994 fire took place before Ben was born so he managed to get an old newspaper article about the identity of the vagrant who died in the car lot. He even sent photos of the man to Phil, Phil was clueless who was sending them and he was clueless as to who the young lad in the photo was. Phil looked on the back of one of the photos and the date said 8/3/1994. Phil then was overcome with shock as he then had an idea who the boy was, the car lot fire victim. He went round to see Pat and the photo matched that of the photo of the lad published in the Walford Gazette on the 9th March 1994, the day after the fire. Somehow the police did not charge Phil due to lack of evidence.

In November 2015, Phil's nemesis Vincent Hubbard obtained a copy of the "Car Lot Fire Victim Identified" Walford Gazette article, as part of his plan to bring Phil down.

In August 2017, Phil admits to Jay Mitchell that the reason he has passed the Car lot over to him is because the homeless boy in the car lot was in fact Jays father and he was passing him it as a way of making amends.

Further Information[]

In The Walford Gazette article on the car lot fire from March 1994, the writing is readable if the image is enlarged but there is no mention of the victims name. Another article that appeared (17 November 2011) appears to have the victim's photo.