Mother escapes arson attack on women's refuge but four-month-old baby is killed

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The Independent Online

A mother dialled 999 with her tongue in a desperate attempt to raise the alarm during an arson attack on a home for vulnerable women in which her four-month-old baby died.

Danielle Wails, 21, was badly burnt in the fire which she claims was started by two men who broke in and bound her wrists together with wire. Neighbours from the Cowgate area of Newcastle came to her rescue when they heard her screaming for help through her letterbox as the fire took hold.

Yesterday Northumbria Police launched a murder inquiry after it was confirmed that the baby, Alexander Lee Gallon, later died in hospital.

Ms Wails was living at a residential care home for vulnerable women run by the St Cuthberts Care Trust, which used to be called Catholic Care North East. Police stressed yesterday that the home was a centre for women who had financial and social problems rather than a refuge for women who feared domestic violence.

Two teenage girls were among the first people to help Ms Wails.

Leanne Horspool, 15, said: "She was saying that two men had got in and had attacked her and set fire to the house. I was telling her to calm down and get away from the door and we would try to find someone to kick it in."

A passing motorist stopped to help but the door was difficult to break down and Ms Wails only escaped when the fire brigade arrived. "She stumbled out of the front door and was just all black and looked like she was covered in soot. She told me she had managed to dial 999 with her tongue. She was shouting, 'my baby, my baby is in there'," said Leanne.

Leanne's friend, Chantelle Stoker, 12, said: "A wire was hanging down from one wrist and looked like it had been pulled tight with a knot in. She was saying that two men had got in, hit her and tied her up then set the house alight. Firemen managed to bring the baby out of the house but he later died in hospital.''

"When the firemen brought the baby out he just looked like a lump of coal with one leg hanging down. They kept him shielded from Danielle and a fireman had him cradled in his jacket," added Ms Stoker.

According to the St Cuthbert's website, it aims to help a wide range of people including young, single women who are pregnant or have young children.

The housing project is a place where "young women can further develop their skills with the security of staff at hand to offer support and advice as needed."

The site goes on: "Mothers learn to support each other and develop their own networks, eventually leading to complete independence and a full participation in their community."

The project has been developed in partnership with North British Housing.

The houses are double-glazed, centrally heated, alarmed and decorated, with enclosed rear gardens.

Neighbours said that the Ms Wails had only lived there for five or six weeks and nothing was known about her family.

Ms Wails was being treated in intensive care.

Police said they could not comment further about the incident, but said that a news conference was planned for today.