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Four children die in Stafford house fire

Four children have died in a house fire which also left a toddler and two adults – who leapt to safety from a first-floor window – injured.

Keegan, Tilly Rose, Olly and Riley, seen here in a photo taken from social media, died in the blaze in the early hours of Tuesday
Keegan, Tilly Rose, Olly and Riley, seen here in a photo taken from social media, died in the blaze in the early hours of Tuesday

Neighbours reported hearing screams as the blaze, in the Highfields area of Stafford, took hold overnight.

The children killed in the fire were aged between three and eight, Staffordshire Police said.

Both adults, along with the toddler, are in hospital, but their injuries are not life-threatening.

The force named the four children, who have not been formally identified, as Riley Holt, aged eight, Keegan Unitt, aged six, Tilly Rose Unitt, aged four, and Olly Unitt, aged three.

Their two-year-old brother Jack survived, along with mother Natalie Unitt, 24. Her partner Chris Moulton, 28, also survived.

Keegan, Tilly Rose, Olly and Riley, seen here in a photo taken from social media, died in the blaze in the early hours of Tuesday
Neighbour’s tears for children killed in Stafford fire

Tearful neighbours said they heard “screaming” and saw flames “lashing” out the windows.

Rob Barber, deputy chief fire officer for Staffordshire fire and rescue service could not comment on the cause and said the man, woman and toddler escaped the property before their arrival.

He added: “Our firefighters were faced with very difficult conditions inside the property due to the severity of the fire.”

Part of the roof has collapsed, windows were shattered and the rooms were left blackened by the blaze, which happened at about 02:40 GMT at the house on Sycamore Lane.

The fire ripped through the house destroying parts of the roof
The fire ripped through the house destroying parts of the roof

Nicola Glover, head teacher of Castlechurch Primary School, which Riley, Tilly and Olly attended, said the school was “absolutely devastated”.

“Riley was a very confident, excitable member of school who came every day full of enthusiasm,” she said.

“He was a caring friend who hated to see anyone hurt or upset and would do his best to help or cheer them up.

“He was a very bright and articulate boy who showed interest in all areas and was always keen to ask lots of questions.”

‘Very hard to accept’

Ms Glover said Tilly “was a happy little girl who loved coming to nursery” and was “a friendly and caring child who loved to read stories, dress up and paint”.

She added: “Olly was a happy, loving boy who loved cuddles. He was always happy to come to nursery and loved to be in the role play area with the dolls.”

Kim Ellis, head teacher at Marshlands School, where Keegan was a pupil, said he was “full of fun and mischief”.

“He loved school and everyone who worked with him loved him. It is very hard to accept what has happened.”

A handwritten note attached to flowers was left at the scene from the children's grandparentsNeighbour Wendy Pickering was in tears as she remembered the children, who she often saw while taking her granddaughter to school.

“It is a real shock,” she said.

“We heard screaming, but we weren’t sure if the children were in the garden.”

Her husband Bryan said he was alerted to the fire by his dog barking during the night.

“The flames were lashing out of the upstairs window,” he said.

A hand-written note attached to a cuddly toy in an area nearby where people had laid down tributes read: “RIP Babes xx life is so so cruel. All our thoughts are with the family at this very sad time.”

Another note read: “Will be dearly missed, love Uncle Dave and Auntie Lou Lou”, while another added: “To my lovely grandkids I will always miss you. Love you always xxx.”

One floral tribute was left by a member of the ambulance staff who had to deal with the fire.

Lamara Shelley left a note describing the four children who died as “you beautiful angels”.

It goes on to say: “I am so gutted we couldn’t save you all.”

Lamara Shelley left a note describing the four children who died as "you beautiful angels"
Lamara Shelley left a note describing the four children who died as “you beautiful angels”

Housing association Stafford and Rural Homes , which owns the property, said it was assisting the police and fire service with investigations.

Ch Insp John Owen, from Staffordshire Police, described the blaze as “absolutely heartbreaking”.

A West Midlands Ambulance Service spokeswoman said: “Tragically, four children from the property were confirmed dead on scene.

“Our thoughts are with the family at this exceptionally difficult time.”

Matthew Ellis, Staffordshire Commissioner for Police Fire and Crime, paid tribute to emergency services for working in “tragic and difficult circumstances in the middle of the night”.

“For something like this to happen it’s just heartbreaking,” he said.

“It’s very difficult to imagine just how professional and how dedicated these people are, but they are all human beings.”

Jeremy Lefroy, the Conservative MP for Stafford, described the fire as “unbelievably tragic”.

A donation page set up to help the family cover funeral costs has amassed more than £4,000 since it was launched earlier.

The nearby Signpost Centre on Auden Way has become one of many collection points for people looking to make donations to the family.

Ken Down, who runs the centre, said: “Lots of people who knew the family were in the cafe this morning talking about it. There is lots of sadness.

“We are open five days a week for anyone who is having any issues. If they are feeling really upset about it they can come here and talk to us.” BBC

Ken Down runs the nearby Signpost Centre
Ken Down runs the nearby Signpost Centre