Judge 'raised fears over blast house children'

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The Independent Online

A judge warned that three children at the centre of a bitter custody battle could be in danger just 24 hours before they were found dead, it emerged tonight.

Eight-year-old twins Augustino and Gianluca Riggi and their five-year-old sister Cecilia were discovered yesterday at the modern townhouse in Edinburgh's Slateford Road after reports of an explosion.

The children's mother, Theresa Riggi, 46, is in a serious but stable condition in hospital after apparently falling from the second floor of the building.

Judge Lady Clark raised concerns about the welfare of the children after their mother failed to appear before a divorce hearing on Tuesday.

The deaths are being treated as suspicious and police want to speak to Mrs Riggi when she is well enough.

Post-mortem examinations were due to be carried out on the children and police insisted it was too early to say whether it was a murder investigation.

The children's father, Pasquale Riggi, 46, has been interviewed by police but is not a suspect. He is said to be "heartbroken".

Police said Mrs Riggi and the children were traced to the Edinburgh address last month after they were reported missing from their home in the Aberdeen area.

When Mrs Riggi, previously of Mosslea Cottage, Skene, Westhill, Aberdeenshire, disappeared again the judge ordered the court's Messengers at Arms to search for her, with social services instructed to supervise the children once found and to apply to a local sheriff in relation to their protection if they thought it necessary.

The couple were due in court tomorrow for a further hearing.

Detective Superintendent Allan Jones, of Lothian and Borders Police, said it was also too early to determine the children's cause of death.

He said: "First and foremost our thoughts are with the children's family, and we are doing what we can to support them at this tragic time.

"The family had been in the city for a few weeks and we are keen to speak to anyone who knew them during that time."

Mr Jones added: "We are not in a position to speak to the woman yet and we will take advice from her doctors as to when that can happen.

"We would like to do that to get a true background to the events of yesterday and find out exactly what happened within the house."

Mr Jones said of Mr Riggi: "He's heartbroken but he's very composed. He realises he holds a lot of central information that we need. We're conscious of the trauma he's gone through."

The detective said the family came from California and Colorado - although he did not confirm who came from which US state.

Mr Riggi has worked for oil firm Shell since 1987.

He has been in Aberdeen for a number of years and in the country for 13 years, police said.

They said he was in Aberdeen at the time of the incident.

In a statement, Shell said: "This is obviously a human tragedy of proportions that most of us find hard to comprehend and our thoughts are with Pasquale and his family.

"Shell will continue to provide Pasquale with support.

"We would urge that he is left alone to deal with his great personal loss."

Floral tributes were left close to the scene today.

One card attached to a bunch of flowers and a yellow teddy bear simply said "With sympathy".

Another note, attached to a small grey teddy bear, said: "To the little ones lost so tragically. There are now three more stars in the sky. I hope the angels are taking care of you."

Edinburgh City Council said it was contacted by lawyers yesterday regarding the recent court proceedings.

It was around the same time that the authority was told about the incident at Slateford Road.

In a statement, the council said: "Prior to yesterday we had no knowledge of the family or of their presence in Edinburgh.

"We received a phone call yesterday afternoon from lawyers regarding the court proceedings involving the family.

"The court's ruling was then faxed through to us at 1505.

"In this fax we were asked to assist with the family's situation if and when they were found by the Messenger at Arms (representing the court).

"It is also important to make clear that there was no social work case involving the family while they were in Aberdeenshire. Therefore there was no case to handover.

"The only point from which we as an authority would have become involved was from yesterday after we received notification from the court.

"The police notified us of the incident at Slateford Road at 1500 on Wednesday."

Edinburgh Pentlands MSP David McLetchie, in whose constituency the incident took place, said: "This is a tragic case which has horrified and saddened us all.

"Given the view of the judge Lady Clarke that the welfare of the children required intervention by social workers, people will want to know why there was a 24-hour delay in communicating the terms of the court order to the social work department of Edinburgh Council and who was responsible for advising the council of the terms of this court order."

Lothian and Borders Police said they were not contacted about the court order.

A force spokesman said: "We wish to confirm Lothian and Borders Police received no contact regarding the order given at the Court of Session, which relates to a civil and not a criminal matter."

Police said the bodies of the three children were removed from the property this afternoon and post-mortem examinations will be carried out tomorrow.