Greek police fear gas leak was to blame for death of British children

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Greek police examined a gas boiler outside the bungalow where two British children died on Thursday, as they attempted to establish the cause of death. Police revealed there was no sign of struggle or any suicidal plan, and they appeared to be investigating if carbon monoxide poisoning was behind the tragedy. Other forms of poisoning, including from eating mushrooms, were also being considered.

A solitary bouquet of red roses was propped outside bungalow B112 in memory of Christianne Shepherd, seven, and her six-year-old brother, Robert.

The family had been on a half-term break on the popular Greek island of Corfu. The school children had been dead for eight hours when they were discovered by a chambermaidon Thursday morning. In the next room, their father Neil Shepherd, 38, and his partner Ruth Beatson, 27, were found in a critical condition.

Yesterday, Corfu police said that Ms Beatson, a teacher, had regained consciousness and was able to speak briefly. Mr Shepherd was said to be in severe shock. Both remained in a serious condition but had been taken off life support machines.

Outside their suite at the Louis Corcyra beach hotel reminders of the half term holiday the children had been enjoying remained scattered about: an orange dinghy, a fishing net and a pile of children's sandals and swimming costumes.

Their mother, Sharon Wood, and other family members were due to fly to the Greek islands yesterday.

Ms Beatson's mother, Helen, and father, Stephen, said simply: "They were gorgeous children."

It remained unclear exactly what had killed the children. As one tourist claimed that a previous occupant of the bungalow had been taken away in an ambulance, officers began examining an adjoining outhouse containing a large gas boiler.

Alister Storey, an engineer, and his wife Debbie, staying at the hotel complex on Gouvia Bay, were among the last people to see the children alive when the family returned from a visit to a nearby town at around 8pm on Wednesday. While they were said to have been feeling unwell at breakfast that day - and Robert had collapsed - they seemed fine later on.

"We just exchanged holiday pleasantries on the beach. Just chatting, and the kids were chasing crabs and the normal things kids do on holiday," said Mr Storey.

The following morning, he said he saw Ms Beatson unconscious on a stretcher outside the bungalow.

"A police officer said to me it was really strong poison not found here. He implied to us that it was a deliberate thing that must have been brought here."

Yesterday Greek investigators, flown in from Athens, joined Corfu's police chief in examining the bungalow. A specialist coroner was also brought in from the mainland as the Public Order Minister, Byron Polidoras, assured the British embassy that there would be a thorough investigation. Back in Horbury, West Yorkshire, Mrs Wood, a dance teacher who recently remarried, was comforted by relatives. Bunches of flowers began appearing with touching notes to the children.

John Wright, their headteacher at Horbury Primary School, said: "Christie was a very bright and able little girl, who was adored by her friends.

"Bobby was a quiet little boy who was very caring to everyone around him. He was also very popular with his classmates, and I will always remember the friendly and polite way he greeted me on the corridor."

Mr Shepherd's father Howard - with whom he worked in a lorry parts business - said the whole family were devastated by the tragedy, which had come "out of the blue".

As the cause of death remained unclear, post mortem examinations were due to be carried out on the two children yesterday but all samples will be taken to a university on the Greek mainland for further investigations.

The results of toxicology blood tests are unlikely to be available until next week.

Hotel sources rejected any idea of food poisoning, insisting that none of the other guests had fallen ill.

A spokeswoman for the tour operator Thomas Cook, with which the family had been travelling, said that the company was working with the Federation of Tour Operators, who have sent independent experts out to Corfu, including a counsellor.