Boys quizzed over 74-year-old's death

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Three boys aged nine and ten were being questioned by police last night after a 20lb concrete slab thrown from a tower block roof killed a 74-year-old woman returning from shopping with her husband and daughter.

The woman's skull was shattered as she entered a side door to Grayson Heights, a 12-storey block of council flats in Kirkstall, Leeds, where her 44-year-old daughter lived. She died instantly, her body surrounded by a pool of blood and Kwik Save carrier bags, her daughter screaming for help.

Police said they were treating the death as suspicious. "A charge of murder is the very worst scenario, but the nine-year-old is below the age of criminal responsibility," Detective Chief Inspector Bob Browell said.

The three boys had been seen running away from the tower block. "Until we can establish a criminal act has been committed, it is not beyond the realms of possibility that nothing could happen to all three of the boys," he said.

The woman, who has not been named, lived in Kirkstall, where residents last night claimed that incidents of objects being dropped on passers- by were a regular occurrence.

Neighbours said the boys, two aged ten and one nine-year-old, had been accused before of "bombing" from rooftops.

"Last week, I had to tell off the nine-year-old after he threw canisters off our fourth-storey roof, which only just missed my grandson," Susan Faulkner, 43, of Kirkstall Hill, said. "The lads have been warned loads of times, but they just keep doing it. Something like this was bound to happen. This sort of thing has been going on for three or four months, since it got light at nights, and the boys just think it's something fun to do."

Madeline Cooper, 23, said she was struck on the leg by an iron girder dropped this month from the top floor of a neighbouring tower block. "I was walking through the same sort of door as the lady was, after coming back with my dog, when I felt something brush my leg. Then there was this loud clatter as a metal girder dropped at my feet," Ms Cooper said.

Grayson Heights is a deteriorating 1960s block in a neighbourhood where bored children are often seen playing on tower block rooftops. Residents said police had been unable to respond effectively to repeated calls about objects dropped on passers-by.

Leeds city council had secured the door leading to the roof, but yesterday it had been forced. A local resident, Gwynneth Mensah, said she heard screams from the block entrance shortly after noon.

"I suddenly heard horribly loud screams of "ambulance, ambulance, somebody call an ambulance quick, we need help". I thought it was a domestic incident, but the screaming continued. When I got there, the woman's daughter was on laid top of her mother. She was covered in blood, and there was blood spattered over the wall, door and floor."

Det Ch Insp Browell said the boys were being interviewed by detectives trained in coaxing information from children.

"I am treating this with the seriousness of murder with the sole intention of finding out how this incident happened. The options open to us are to detain them in a police station, invite social services to detain them on our behalf, or to release them to their parents, who are understandably shocked."

The dead woman's husband, aged 76, was being comforted by family and friends last night after being treated in hospital for shock.