Murder probe over gas blast tragedy

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A MURDER inquiry could be launched by detectives investigating the gas blast death of a tragic two-year-old boy.

Jamie Heaton, described by his heartbroken family as a “happy loving little boy” who was “full of laughter”, was killed as he watched TV in the front room of the family’s terrace house in Shaw, Oldham.

His mother Michelle survived the carnage after she momentarily stepped into the yard to hang out washing to dry.

Her husband Kenny and two other children, Jodie and Jack, were not at home.

In tribute, the victim’s family said: “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 pre-school, 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.”

The blast, which happened at around 11.15am on Tuesday, left neighbour Andrew Partington, 27, in a serious condition in hospital with burns.

But after initial police and fire service investigations Mr Partington faces “significant questions” a senior officer said.

Police are at his bedside at Wythenshawe Hospital in Manchester waiting to be given the go-ahead by doctors to question him.

Sources confirmed that a domestic argument involving the injured man took place in the hours before the blast.

Steve Heywood, Assistant Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police, said: “We have had some information to suggest it may not be accidental so we are treating it as a suspicious death and therefore a homicide investigation is undertaken.”

Mr Partington’s partner, named locally as Tanya Williamson, had left the house earlier with her five children, leaving Mr Partington home alone at the time of the blast. 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 that Mr Partington had moved into the property only around six weeks ago. A joiner from Rochdale, he had recently lost his job, according to neighbours.

Mr Heywood added: “One of the early indications was that it may not have been an accident, therefore we will always 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.”

Mr Partington is still under sedation and officers will await medical advice on when he is fit to be quizzed by police.

Mr Heywood added: “His partner is currently being spoken to by specially trained officers in relation to what information she can give in relation to this investigation.”

He said it was only by chance that Jamie’s mother was not in the house when it was reduced to rubble in the explosion.

“Jamie was in the house, we believe in the front room, watching TV and his mother had just slipped out into 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.”

Surrounding properties were also severely damaged and structural engineers will have to check each house before residents can return.

The council has launched a Distress Fund to help the residents of around 100 houses who were evacuated from their homes.

National Grid said the incident was not caused by a leak from its gas distribution pipes.

The Rev Lynne Connolly, vicar of nearby St James Church, said a book of condolence would be available to sign from today.