Pictured: Two-year-old boy killed in huge gas blast… as police wait to quiz severely injured neighbour, 27, with 80% burns
Police waiting to question Andrew Partington who lived in the house at centre of explosion that destroyed four homesNeighbour says injured man had rowed with his partner the day before the blastSenior police officer compared scene to 1995 IRA bombing of Manchester city centreOfficers could launch a murder investigation
Police say child”s mother only escaped death because she was hanging out washingPrime Minister David Cameron wishes police “all speed” in establishing what caused the blastOne man airlifted to hospital with severe burns to 80 per cent of body
Jamie Heaton was killed in the lounge of his family home as he sat watching TV when the explosion occurred
The parents of two-year-old Jamie Heaton, who was killed in a massive gas explosion that destroyed his home and three other houses, have spoken of their devastation at losing their “happy, loving little boy”.
They made a moving tribute as it emerged that police are waiting to quiz their next door neighbour Andrew Partington, 27, who is being treated in hospital for severe burns to 80 per cent of his body, about what caused the blast that centred on his home.
Officers are investigating reports that Mr Partington had rowed with his girlfriend Tanya Williamson the previous evening, just hours before the tragedy happened.
Meanwhile the family of Jamie Heaton told of their loss in a joint statement, saying: “Jamie was a happy, loving little boy – precious son to Michelle and Kenny and loving little brother to Jodie and Jack.
“Jamie”s life was full of laughter. He loved going to preschool, playing with sand and water and going to the park. He touched the hearts of all who knew him and will be missed by all.”
Jamie died yesterday after the blast tore through his street in the Shaw area of Oldham, Greater Manchester, causing devastation to properties in the surrounding area and leading to the evacuation of 50 homes.
The explosion was so big that it destroyed a house next door killing the boy who was watching TV in the lounge as his mother put the washing out to dry in their back yard.
It is believed Jamie”s father and elder siblings were not at home at the time.
Mr Partington had recently been made redundant from his job as a joiner and Police have confirmed they are looking into claims that a loud argument was heard coming from his home the day before.
Police say they have “significant questions” for Mr Partington, who has officers at his bedside waiting for him to regain consciousness.
Flowerswere today left near the scene of the blast and among them one young mourner left a toy Bob the Builder at the scene with the message: “JamieI”m giving you my Bob The Builder so you can play with him in heaven. Good night god bless xx”
Thenews emerged as Prime Minister David Cameron today wished police “all speed” in establishing what caused the blast. Speaking in the House of Commons, he said: “I am sure the whole Housewill want to send a message of sympathy and condolences to the family of that poor two-year-old who lost their life, and also our best wishes to the burns victim who is in hospital being treated.”
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Andrew Partington (left) is believed to have had an argument with his partner Tanya Williamson (pictured right with Partington) the night before the blast
This picture shows the scale of the damage to neighbouring houses as well as the scale of the damage to the three houses in the initial blast
Fire and police investigators survey the scene of the explosion where four houses once stood
The power of the blast, which was to the right of the picture, is clear when you see that the roofs of buildings 50 yards away were damaged
Steve Heywood, Assistant Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police, told a press conference in Shaw:”We have had some information to suggest it may not be accidental so weare treating it as a suspicious death and therefore a homicide investigation is undertaken.”
He added: “One of the early indications was that it may not have been an accident, therefore we willalways then up the ante and treat it as a suspicious death inquiry. There might have been some precursor event, like a domestic incident. All those things are still in our thinking at this time.”
Police said Mr Partington – a joiner originally from Rochdale who was recently made redundant, according to locals – was still under sedation and unconscious at Wythenshawe Hospital, Manchester.
Mr Heywood said it was only by chance that Michelle Heaton, the mother of the toddler who was killed, was not in the house when it was reduced to rubble in the explosion.
Family tribute: Jamie Heaton”s relatives, his auntie Syl and uncle Geoff, leaves flowers at the scene of the explosion
Heartbroken: The tearful aunt and uncle, Syl and Geoff, of two-year-old Jamie Heaton look at the tributes left to their nephew at the scene of the massive explosion
Touching tributes: Teddy bears and a Bob The Builder doll have been left among bunches of flowers at the scene
“The victim Jamie was in the house, webelieve the front room, watching TV and his mother had just slipped outinto the back yard, hanging out washing,” he said. “What that mother must be going through must be unbelievable, so our hearts go out to her.”
“[Mr Partington] was a resident on the street at the time,” Mr Heywood added, “and he is obviously somebodywho we have significant questions for.
“His partner is currently being spoken to by specially trained officers in relation to what information she can give in relation to this investigation.”
Firefighters today went into some of the houses around the exclusion zone to rescue pets like this cat being carried in a cage
The massive explosion flattened number 11 Buckley Street, where Jamie lived, and number 9, where Mr Partington lived. The two houses are separated by an alleyway. It is understood Mr Partington had only moved into the property around six weeks ago.
Surrounding properties were also devastated and structural engineers will have to check each house before residents can return. Mr Heywood compared the scene to something like the IRA”s bombing of Manchester.
“This looks like there has been a bomb. The devastation is absolutely tremendous,” he said. “Our thoughts go out to those families that have been displaced.”
Mr Heywood praised the way people and local businesses had come forward to help those hit by the disaster.
“The community support has been absolutely fantastic,” he said.
The Heaton family lived next door to the house in Shaw, near Oldham, Greater Manchester, which is thought to havebeen the source of the huge blast. Mr Partington was taken to a specialist burns unit by air ambulance and was in a serious but stable condition last night.
Superintendent Neil Evans, of Greater Manchester Police, said he was aware of rumours of ‘a potential domesticdisturbance in the area’ on the night before the blast. The epicentre of the blast is being treated as a crime scene but National Grid said it was not yet possible to say what caused the explosion.
Shocked neighbours told how rubble andshattered glass had been strewn across several streets, with many fearing a bomb had gone off. Horrifying aerial pictures showed how at least four substantial terraced houses had been blown to bits by the ferocity of the explosion.
Residents had reported smelling gas 40 minutes earlier. As engineers from the National Grid were arriving the fatal blast erupted.
Some residents questioned the time they took to arrive yesterday, although the target response time for such suspected leaks is an hour. The explosion triggered a huge rescue effort including dog teams trained to search for earthquake survivors amid fears that residents were trapped under rubble.
“There was complete devastation – it resembled a war zone. The houses were reduced to rubble and there was glass and bricks everywhere.”
He added: “Quite a lot of people were running around in a panic – I don”t think anyone could quite believe what had just happened.”
Grandmother Audrey Cleaver, 68, was in bed at No 5 Buckley Street, two doors down from the scene of the blast when half her house was destroyed in the explosion. She said: “I was lying in bed and then there was just this unbelievable bang – I didn’t know what on earth was going on.
Photographers were today given access to the scene of the blast that claimed the life of two-year-old Jamie Heaton and left Anthony Partington fighting for his life
A police officer stands near flowers inside a cordon close to the scene of the suspected gas blast in Buckley Street
Since the houses were destroyed the community of Shaw has pulled together and people are supporting one another
Among the flowers, one young mourner left a toy Bob the Builder at the scene with the message: “Jamie I”m giving you my Bob The Builder so you can play with him in heaven. Good night god bless xx”
“It was a total miracle that I managed to escape. Half my house has collapsed, but luckily I was in themore stable part and managed to walk away. The house is totally devastated, there is hardly anything left and I have still got to see what I can recover of my possessions, but right now none of this seems important.”
Michelle Bromley, 21, and sister Jessica, 18, told how they were at home on Oak Street – directly behind the house that exploded.
Michelle said: “I was downstairs whenI heard a massive bang. The whole house shook. It was so loud I thoughtthe explosion was in our house. I thought to myself that I had to get Jess. She was in bed and the window had come right in on top of her. I felt her shaking and crying.
“I told Jess we had to get out. The neighbours were outside shouting each other’s names. I said we have to get out quickly. I ran outside in my dressing gown. I wanted to go back in to get some clothes but the police said we could not go back in.”
Carnage: The blast ripped through three houses and severely damaged several others nearby in what is believed to have been a huge gas explosion
Aerial footage shows the scale of the devastation as firefighters continue to work through the rubble
Their father, Nick Bromley, 45, added: “I was at work when I got a frantic phone call. I am just glad they are both OK. They are lucky to be alive.”
Tragically, Jamie Heaton’s body was found in the remains of one of the houses. Residentsliving in and around Buckley Street noticed a smell of gas yesterday morning, and one rang the emergency number at 10.42am.
Engineersarrived around 40 minutes later, but were too late to avert the catastrophic blast thought to have been centred on No?9. Itwas smashed to pieces along with its immediate neighbour and at least two more houses across a gated alleyway, with windows and roofs damaged across several blocks.
Residents of houses which withstood the blast rushed outside in shock and were confronted by scenes of devastation. Shop manager Waqar Hussain, 23, said: ‘It felt like the endof the world.’
Debris was flung into neighbouring houses and their gardens at around 11.15 this morning
This picture shows the scale of the damage to neighbouring houses as well as the scale of the damage to the three houses in the initial blast
Mr Hussain lives around the corner from the scene of devastation. He had nipped home on his 11am break, walking past just moments before the explosion.
Hesaid: “I just got home and at first I just thought it was my ceiling because it collapsed in, I covered my face. I went out and saw everybody”s windows smashed and cars in the street wrecked.
“Peoplewere shouting and screaming. I went back in my house to make sure my family was OK and went back outside to the houses. Just two minutes before I had walked past, I could have been done in as well. There were tiles, slates, bricks, all over the street.”
Another eyewitness described the sceneof the explosion as like a “war zone”. Freelance photographer Peter Walker, 48, who lives just five minutes away, said: “I heard a huge bangand immediately thought there had been a crash on the railway line nearhere.
Fightfighters search through the wreckage of a house minutes after it was destroyed in a gas blast in Oldham yesterday
Handout photo issued by Greater Manchester Police of a rescue worker with a search dog at the scene of the blast
Lauren Roberts, 20, also of Oak Street, was driving along her road. She said: “It was the most terrifying thing that has happened to me. I just heard this massive bangand then suddenly there was things flying everywhere. It was like beingin the middle of an earthquake.
“My car got thrown forward and all the windows smashed. All I could do was slam on the brakes and try and find some cover. Tiles were coming in through the windscreen and it was just a few seconds of complete chaos. I just feel so lucky that I wasn’tmore badly hurt and when I look at my car it seems unbelievable that I walked away with no serious injuries.”
Joanne Schofield, 46, added: “There were bits of debris going up into the sky after the explosion. It flew quite a long way. Rubble was blown down the street. Our house was OK butother people’s windows went through.”
Georgina Ullah, 26, who lives 100 yards away on Lees Street, said: “I heard this massive bang. You could hear the earth shake and it brought down my light fittings.”
Marie Boon was mowing her lawn. She said: “I live in High Crompton, just above East Crompton. I just felt the earth tremor and saw the debris in the air.”
Geoff Schofield, 50, of nearby GordonStreet, was getting up for work when the blast hit. He said: “There wasa big bang and my window went through. I put on some clothes and there was a big pile of rubble outside. I was very shaken. I was just glad to get out OK.”
First aid: Ambulance crews and an air ambulance paramedic carry an injured person away from the scene of the explosion on a stretcher
The injured person is carried around to the entrance to the helicopter to be airlifted for emergency treatment
Dave Boylin, 50, also of Gordon Street, said: “I just heard the bang and looked out of the window and saw a cloud of smoke and dust go up. A few of us came outside and all you could see was the rubble. The emergency services were there very quickly and said we were being evacuated.”
Sam Gibson, 25, of Oak Road, which adjoins Buckley Street, said: “There was a really strong smell of gas all morning and it was getting progressively worse as time went on but obviously you don”t expect anything like this to happen.
“I was in my living room and heard this horrendous explosion and you could feel the earth shake. I live around 100 yards away yet it still felt like it had happened in my own house.”
Josh Nadin, who also lives nearby, said “It”s around the corner from me. We believe it was a gas explosion and it”s blown three houses to smithereens and some others have been quite severely damaged.
Huge operation: Dozens of police, medics and firefighters rushed to the scene to tend to the victims
Worried: Concerned residents look on, some wearing their night clothes at Police and fire services at the scene of the gas explosion which has flattened three houses
A PCSO holds a child near the scene of the explosion, which sparked a huge emergency services search and rescue operation yesterday
“The police won”t disclose anything to us, but if there was anyone in any of those houses they would be lucky to get out alive.”
As a massive emergency response swung into action, locals flooded to the area to check on friends and relatives. Among them was 31-year-old Mrs Heaton, who neighbours said had rushed home from her job at the restaurant of a golf course.
Ashfaq Hussain, 27, whose father is her landlord, said: ‘I asked her if everything was OK and she said she was fine. But then a few minutes later we heard that her child had died.It is terribly sad.’
Around 150 homes were evacuated following the blast, with many families facing the prospect of spending the night in emergency accommodation including a school.
Devastation: These grainy video grabs show the scale of the blast, believed to have been caused by a gas leak
Haunting: Children”s toys lie strewn under the rubble in the street
Councillor Jean Stretton, Cabinet Member for Neighbourhoods and Devolved Services, said: “This is absolutely tragic news that has shocked the whole community.
“Our thoughts are with everyone affected by this incident. You don”t have to have known any of the people involved to feel stunned and saddened by today”s events and they are all in our thoughts.
“Oldham Council is continuing to work alongside the emergency services to contribute in whatever way that we can. Our priority is to ensure a safe environment and assist those affected in whatever way we possibly can.
“A rest centre has been set up nearby at Crompton House school and we are working with partners to keep residents informed of developments. We will commit whatever resources are needed in order to assist the emergency services in their ongoing work and the clean-up operation when it begins.”