Two bodies found in blaze mansion

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The Independent Online

Two bodies have been found in the burnt out home of millionaire businessman Christopher Foster, police said today.

Mr Foster, his wife Jill and their 15-year-old daughter Kirstie have been missing since a blaze gutted the house in the early hours of Tuesday.

West Mercia Police said two bodies were found in the main part of Osbaston House, Maesbrook, Shropshire.

Superintendent Gary Higgins said: "We can confirm that two bodies were recovered last night from the main part of Osbaston House, Maesbrook.

"The remains will be examined by a Home Office pathologist and post mortems are due to be carried out later today to establish the cause of death."

He said it was not possible to give further details.

The Shropshire coroner has been informed.

Officers entered the main part of the building yesterday morning but were forced to withdraw "almost immediately" after debris began to fall.

They left the building for their own safety, but were able to re-enter in the afternoon following more work to shore up the structure.

The search for a third body will continue today.

Supt Higgins said it could take several weeks to complete the examination and sifting of debris inside the building.

"It is going to be a painstaking and lengthy process before the full examination of the house and its surrounds is completed," he said.

"In the meantime, we will keep an open mind concerning what we may, or may not find."

Police said the premises were deliberately set alight.

The Fosters went to a friend's barbecue on Monday before returning to their home later that evening.

It has been reported that Kirstie may have been talking online to friends in the hours before the fire, which destroyed a stable block, garage and badly damaged the house itself.

A spokeswoman for West Mercia Constabulary said police were looking at Kirstie's computer.

Police have refused to comment on reports that bullet cartridges and pools of blood were found in the courtyard.

A man who knew Mr Foster said he feared his former business associate may have "just flipped".

Terence Baines, a former director of Mr Foster's company Ulva Ltd, said: "It's anyone's guess, but it seems that the people he owed money to are big companies and I can't see them behind something like this."

Speaking from his home near Tamworth, Staffordshire, Mr Baines, an accountant, speculated that maybe Mr Foster "just flipped because the pressure of it was too much for him".

He added: "He was just an ordinary everyday chap, well-dressed, a good businessman."

The horses found dead at the scene have now been examined and post-mortem examinations on them are complete, with police awaiting the results.

Detectives confirmed the bodies of three dogs were found close to the horses and said a large horse box parked close to the gates of the property had been removed for forensic examination.

Mr Foster, who made his fortune developing insulation technology for oil rigs, was earlier this year branded "bereft of the basic instincts of commercial morality" by a High Court judge.

Court documents show that Mr Foster's company, Ulva Ltd, which had gone into liquidation, faced legal action from one of its suppliers for thousands of pounds, and also owed about £800,000 in tax.

One neighbour, who did not wish to be named, said: "I'm not surprised because of all the rumours.

"They were at a barbecue on the Monday and then the daughter was on the internet until 1am. It's very tragic. I would not be shocked if they found a third body.

"The police said they had got all the ports on alert and nothing came of that, there's been no sighting of them.

"You tend to think then, it's a process of elimination."

An 85-year-old neighbour who did not wish to be named, said she was shocked by the news.

The woman said: "I did not think they would find them in there. It's very upsetting.

"I did not think they would find any bodies. I thought maybe they had gone away. It's terrible."

Forensic experts could be seen searching what remains of the house and its grounds today.

The bright white overalls of the search team were a stark contrast to the thick black soot covering the estate.

What looked like a white forensic tent could be seen inside the ruins of the main house and another tent was visible in the grounds of the property.

The burnt out remains of the family's five cars were still visible in what remains of the family's garage.

In a statement read at the scene today, Supt Higgins said the two bodies had not been formally identified and DNA tests may be used.

"There are a range of techniques that will help us," he added.

He could not say if those dead were male or female or give any idea of their age.

"We must stress that the Foster family still remain unaccounted for," he added.

A police spokeswoman said the incident was still being treated as arson and was not a murder inquiry.

When asked by reporters, she said a murder investigation could not be "ruled out or ruled in".

"When we have the cause of death we will know a bit more," she said.

Detectives are hoping to establish a cause of death on Monday, with formal identification taking place in the following days.

She said the genders of the bodies would not be confirmed today.

Up to 100 officers are working on the investigation. "It is a very large site," she said. "There is an awful lot to do."

Special prayers will be said for the Foster family at a church service in Maesbrook tomorrow.

The service will take place St John's Church at 10am and is open to members of the public and the media.