Murder detectives reopen blaze investigation

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The Independent Online

Detectives today announced they have reopened a six-year-old murder investigation into a house fire which killed a mother and her teenage daughter in a seaside town.

Sally-Ann Baxter-Smith, 38, and her 14-year-old daughter Lois died from smoke inhalation after fire tore through their mid-terraced house in Beach Road, Eastbourne, East Sussex.

Two other children, a boy and a girl, escaped from the building without serious injury via an upstairs window in the early hours of September 6, 2003.

An investigation by police and the fire brigade failed to determine a cause for the fierce blaze, prompting detectives from Sussex Police to launch a murder inquiry.

A man from Eastbourne who was arrested on suspicion of murder at the time was later released without charge.

Today the force's major crime branch announced it has reopened the case and a reconstruction will feature on the BBC's Crimewatch programme on September 29.

Detective Chief Inspector Trevor Bowles, leading the new inquiry, said: "Our determination to establish the truth behind the awful and tragic events of September 6, 2003 remains resolute.

"The person responsible for this hideous act has not been brought to justice yet, but I feel certain that with the assistance of the BBC, and their proven track record of appealing to the wider audience, we will be able to find justice for Sally-Ann and Lois.

"Loyalties change with time, and I appeal to anyone who knows who committed this dreadful crime, and why, to come forward and speak with us. Alternatively, information can be provided anonymously to Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111."

In a tribute released at the time, the victims' family said they were "two wonderful people".

Their statement said: "Sally-Ann was one of the most warm and intelligent people you could ever wish to meet. She would help anyone and adored her four children.

"Lois, though very young, had all the qualities to become a strong, young woman. She had much love to give and had a heart of gold. Their loss is devastating to the whole family and all our friends."