I just heard her scream - `get my babies'

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The Independent Online
IT WAS BARELY 1am when the shouting began. "I heard screaming. I thought they were arguing. Then I heard the kids crying," said Lisa Lewis, who lived next door to the three-storey house in Chingford, north- east London.

Police now believe yesterday's fire which killed seven people - across four generations of a single family - was started deliberately, making it one of the worst domestic arson attacks in recent years. Detective Superintendent James Moore Sutherland of Chingford CID, who is leading the investigation into the fire, described it as "a horrific attack on innocents".

The fire spread with such devastating speed that neighbours in Bellamy Road who were first on the scene were powerless to help. By the time firefighters arrived it was too late. At the end of it all a two-year-old boy, twin girls aged four, their father and his girlfriend, together with the children's grandmother and great-grandmother were dead.

Miss Lewis said she was woken in the early hours by the sounds of screams and cries. "I jumped out of bed and looked out of the window and I saw her [the grandmother] screaming to me to help her. I could hear the kids coughing and crying. It was terrible. She was looking straight at me and there was nothing I could do. I ran downstairs and called 999 and then went outside."

Neighbours tried to kick down the door but the flames were too strong, she said. "The flames were just coming out and there was no way anyone could get in there."

Then the three children's mother arrived at the scene. "I just heard her screaming `Get my babies! Get my babies!' She collapsed and they took her to hospital," said Miss Lewis.

Miss Lewis asked a window cleaner who lived across the road to fetch his ladders from his van. "But it was too late," she said. "The screaming and crying had stopped. You couldn't see them anymore."

Mark, who declined to give his surname, said he and two friends took a ladder around the back of the blazing house but it wasn't long enough to reach the children. "As soon as we saw what was happening we went straight there, me and a couple of mates, but the ladder was too short to reach the kids' bedroom."

Mark then went to the front of the house and helped the grandfather climb down from the first floor window.

"The flames were just pouring out. There was not much you could do after that," he said. The grandfather was later released from Whipps Cross Hospital after being treated for burns to his hands.

Dozens of people watched from the pavement, according to another neighbour, Sawzia Hussaini. "I saw a fireman climbing in through the window. There were flames coming out of the window and roof."

Iain Duncan Smith, Chingford's Conservative MP, also inspected the scene, described the deaths as an "outrage" and said the whole community would be in shock. "These people have to be brought to justice and if anybody knows or has even the slightest suspicion about who they are they must immediately talk to the police," he said. "It horrifies you to even think about it."

Neighbours described the family as popular. One, Mirle Edmonds, said: "They were very nice people, a lovely family. The children were beautiful, lovely children." Mrs Hussaini added that the family were pleasant and friendly while Miss Lewis said she had known the family for more than 10 years and regarded herself as their good friend. "They were a nice family. Whoever did this is just evil."

By yesterday afternoon, dozens of bouquets of flowers had been left at the scene. One bouquet of white flowers was accompanied with a handwritten note saying "God bless". The neighbourhood had no significant social or crime problems, according to the Reverend Hugh Doyle, vicar of the local Baptist Church. "It is a friendly and supportive community, closely knit."

A murder investigation team has been set up and anyone with any information should ring the incident room, in confidence, on 0181 345 4354. Scotland Yard said people could also call CrimeStoppers on 0800 555111.