Arsonists knew baby was in the house during attack

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The Independent Online

Danielle Wails, 21, came round to hear her son's cries from the other side of a burning sofa. Her hands bound, she alerted neighbours with her screams and managed to dial 999 with her tongue. By the time firefighters kicked down her door, Alexander was fatally injured. He was declared dead at Newcastle General Hospital.

Detective Superintendent Barbara Franklin, who is leading the investigation, said: "It is difficult to comprehend the wickedness of someone who could do such a thing. To say this was horrendous is an understatement. We need people to come forward and help us catch these two people.

"I am absolutely sure they knew there was a baby in the house. It was crying and it was in the same room as its mother. The house is small and it was a tiny living room. There is no way they could not have known that baby was in the house."

Ms Wails was in her kitchen on Sunday night with the door open when the two masked men, dressed in black, walked in and without saying a word attacked her from behind. They punched and kicked her unconscious, tied her with a phone cord and dragged her into the living room where her son was sleeping. The attack lasted only three or four minutes.

Det Supt Franklin said: "She was woken by the smoke from the fire, the base of which was believed to have been set on one of two settees in the middle of the living room. The seat of the fire was between her and the baby. We believe she had tried to get to the baby but the intensity of the flame prevented her from reaching him. These men did not steal anything, [and] they said nothing. They were in and out very quickly."

Neighbours in Cowgate, Newcastle upon Tyne, heard her screams but could not get into the house as the door had been locked. Northumbria Police officers were yesterday trying to work out who could have committed such an attack and the motive.

The house was leased by St Cuthbert's Care, a charity which helps single mothers. Detectives said there was no suggestion that the young woman, who had lived there for only a couple of weeks, had suffered domestic violence.

She was discharged from hospital with minor head injuries, and was being comforted by Alexander's father, Robert Gallon, 21, at a secret location yesterday. The couple lived apart but he played an active part in Alexander's life and was distraught, detectives said. Det Supt Franklin said she strongly believed there was no drug link to the murder, nor in the lives of either parent, neither of whom have a serious criminal record. The young woman had not complained of being harassed or intimidated.

"We have got to look at Danielle and her relations," the officer continued. "Has someone got a grudge against her? Is there someone who has a vendetta against her?" Fire experts and fingerprint specialists were examining the scene and a team of 40 detectives were assigned to the case. Officers were making house- to-house inquiries as well as examining CCTV images.

Det Supt Franklin appealed for witnesses yesterday, adding: "We could very easily now be investigating two deaths. If ever there was a crime the public were going to help in, it should be this one."

A woman in her early twenties was arrested and released on bail yesterday in connection with the inquiry.