Police say they are investigating “all possibilities” after the body of man believed to have been rough sleeping was found in a burning tent.
The remains of the unidentified man were only discovered after firefighters were called to a blaze under a railway arch close the main station in Salford, Greater Manchester, in the early hours of 20 January.
The secluded area, adjacent to a newly-built car park, was being used by a number of homeless people to shelter from the current cold weather.
One homeless man who uses the railway arches said he had been told that the dead man had been attacked by youths who then set him on fire. Greater Manchester Police said they were unable to verify the claims.
David Palmer, 37, who named the victim as a middle-aged man called Lawrence, said: “I heard that kids beat him up and set him on fire. I was going to go there last night, it could have been me.”
The scene of the fire in Irwell Street remained cordoned off for several hours on 20 January while forensic experts examined remains of the tent and the surrounding area.
Officers said they were appealing for witnesses after fire crews were called to the arch shortly before 1.20am on 20 January.
Detective Chief Inspector Chris Walker, who is leading the investigation, said: “We are trying to establish the circumstances surrounding the man’s death and the cause of the fire. Currently we are investigating all possibilities, nothing is being ruled out at the moment.”
He added: “We are appealing for any members of the community who have seen anything or who have any information about this incident or who know the man’s identity to get in touch with police as soon as possible.”
One building site worker close to where the body was found said he had seen homeless people sleeping rough under the railway arches.
He said: “I didn't know the chap. He was homeless, living under the bridge. I saw about three [homeless people] going in.”
Within the arches of the railway bridge, wooden pallets, food wrappers and empty bottles could be seen.
Outreach workers spoke of their shock at the death, which coincided with efforts in Manchester to ensure homeless people are offered accommodation rather having to endure freezing nighttime temperatures.
One volunteer worker said: “What has happened is tragic and absolutely awful. It will reverberate through those who are homeless and worry them. I would expect we will have a lot more turning up and looking for accommodation.”