Three children, said to be a two-year-old boy and four-year-old twin girls, along with their father, aged around 22, and his girlfriend were among those who died. The children's grandmother, thought to be aged 51, and great-grandmother, aged around 75, were also killed in the blaze in Chingford, in north-east London, in the early hours of yesterday morning.
Neighbours said they heard the children crying and saw the grandmother screaming from a window but were unable to help because the only ladder available was not long enough to reach them and the fire spread too rapidly. The children's grandfather escaped after climbing from a first-floor window.
Det Supt James Moore Sutherland, of Chingford CID, said the deaths were being treated as murder and that a petrol canister had been found at the house. "Somebody out there knows who has done this and we need their help. This is a horrific attack on innocents involving the tragic deaths of four generations of one family," he said. "This is the worst I have seen in 31 years in the job."
The fire broke out shortly before 1am and quickly ripped through the three-storey, end-of-terrace house. Four fire engines and a total of 20 firefighters tackled the blaze but were beaten back by smoke and the collapse of the building's main staircase. The majority of the dead were found in a bedroom on the second floor and had to be removed with the aid of a crane because the collapsed floors and roof made the charred structure too dangerous for firefighters to enter freely.
DS Sutherland said it was too early to talk about possible suspects or motives. "We are at the beginning of the investigation. We are in for a long haul."
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