Mother charged with starting fire that killed sons

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The mother of two boys who were killed in fire in a pub that claimed three lives and left two other children critically ill was charged with manslaughter and arson last night.

Kate Knight, 32, was arrested early on Wednesday by detectives at the Essex hospital where she has maintained a vigil for her three-year-old son, Joe, who suffered horrific burns in the blaze nine weeks ago at the Prince of Wales pub in Stoke Newington, north London. Mrs Knight was the landlady of the pub.

The fire, which broke out at 5.30am on a Sunday morning, killed Mrs Knight's two older children ­ Joe's brother, Charlie, five, and his half-brother, Christopher, 10, who was staying with the family before a camping trip.

A family friend, Rondrick Springer, 45, died in hospital three weeks ago from 50 per cent burns to his body, suffered when he fought his way through the flames to rescue two more children sleeping above the bar during a private party.

Mrs Knight was arrested at the burns unit of Broomfield Hospital in Chelmsford. Joe is being treated there, with his seriously injured cousin, eight-year-old Vicky Chaundy.

Mrs Knight, 31, of no fixed abode, has been charged with the manslaughter of her sons and Mr Springer. She has been bailed to appear at Thames magistrates' court tomorrow.

Mrs Knight and her husband, Kevin, 45, had run the pub together as brewery tenants, and had built up a popular business after Mr Knight inherited the pub from his father 10 years ago. Despite the presence of graffiti on every other hoarding in the immediate vicinity, the only marks on the wooden boards now surrounding the gutted pub were three spray-painted letters: RIP.

The fire at the pub turned the three-storey pub into an inferno within minutes as flames reached up a stairwell leading to the family living quarters.

Witnesses of the tragedy in the early hours of 27 July described how Mrs Knight had stood screaming in the street while Mr Springer, a plumber known to his friends as Iceman, dropped two young girls, including Vicky Chaundy, to safety from a first-floor window.

One neighbour said the mother had held her head in her hands and screamed: "My babies, my babies'' as the fire took hold.

In an interview last week, before the funeral of Mr Springer, Mrs Knight described how she had opened a side door to be confronted by the blaze, inadvertently fanning the flames. She said: "All you could see was yellow, just yellow flames. I was by the phone so I dialled 999. The next thing I know, I am outside. It all happened so quickly.

"We are just a small family running a pub. You don't imagine something like this. One minute you are sitting having a laugh, the next, your whole life falls apart.''

Despite a hunt to find the suspected arsonists, the police investigation failed to produce quick results. Detective Chief Superintendent Jon Shatford, the officer in charge of the inquiry, said last week that he was considering "other possibilities'' about the origin of the fire.

Mr Knight was due to go on a camping trip the next day with and the five children ­ Christopher, Charlie, Joe, Vicky, and 11-year-old Denise Worell, the daughter of Mr Knight from a previous relationship.

The tragedy has generated a wave of sympathy in the surrounding community. A benefit evening held last month, which included raffle prizes donated by local businesses, raised £12,000 to be distributed between the families and help to pay for the rehabilitation of the injured children.

Joe, who was kept under sedation for at least six weeks because of the seriousness of his injuries, was recently moved out of intensive care, but is expected to have skin grafts to repair the damage to his arms, legs and back. Vicky Chaundy has already had similar operations.