Lake deaths mother tells of her 'greatest loss'

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The Independent Online

The mother of three children who drowned when the car they were in rolled into a lake spoke yesterday of the "greatest loss I could ever endure".

Claire Armstrong lost her sons Imran, six, and Aaron, five, as well as her three-year-old daughter Sharla Blair and was said to be inconsolable.

The 22-year-old housewife had been in the vehicle with her partner, Courtney Barker – who brought up the children as his own – and a friend, Ryan Purdey, when it slid down an embankment into 20ft-deep waters at Arlesey Lake, Bedfordshire. The adults escaped but the children drowned.

Yesterday it fell to Mr Barker's grandmother, Pauline Ely, to give a poignant description of the three youngsters, from a statement prepared by the young couple. "Imran was a bright and popular boy at school, he was quiet, loved school, and was very studious," said Mrs Ely, 63, from Luton. "He loved computers, Pokémon, wrestling and had many friends who frequently asked if Imran could come to their house to play.

"He was very well-behaved and loved his brother and sister very much," she said.

"Aaron was boisterous, bright, cheerful and he also liked computers, Pokémon, playing on his bike and skateboard. Very popular like his brother, he also had many friends, in particular he had lots of girls as friends.

"Sharla was always happy, very beautiful, loved Barbies and handbags. She also loved hats and would always find a chance to wear a hat and a handbag. She had a nickname – we called her Bubbalo."

Ms Armstrong said in the statement: "The loss of my children is the greatest loss I could ever endure."

Mrs Ely, accompanied at the press conference in the Luton police station by Mr Barker's sister, Corinne Barker, said that the couple were "very traumatised", adding: "The whole family are in a terrible state." Ms Barker sat sobbing beside her grandmother as the statement was read out.

Police have yet to notify the children's natural fathers as one is believed to be in India and the other no longer lives at his last known address.

Mr Barker, a forklift truck operator, was driving the Vauxhall Astra car with Mr Purdey as a front-seat passenger and Ms Armstrong in the back with the children when the accident happened at about 4.15pm on Saturday. Post-mortem examinations yesterday confirmed that all three children had drowned. An inquest was opened and adjourned by the coroner, David Morris.

Des Lawless, a spokesman for Bedfordshire Police, said officers had talked to Mr Barker a number of times since the accident but felt that he was not in a "coherent state".

"He's about to receive some medical treatment this morning for the trauma he's going through. We haven't taken a statement yet," he said.

Mr Lawless said that Ms Armstrong had split up with the father of the two boys some time ago. It is believed that he is now in India.

He said police had not been able to contact the father of Sharla. Police have a number of addresses for him but his last known address is empty.

A full examination of the car began yesterday following an investigation of the scene of the accident. Bedfordshire Police believe the accident occurred while the car was carrying out a manoeuvre.