Murder probe after gas blast death

Halstead Gazette: Damaged houses at the scene of an explosion in the Shaw area of Oldham Damaged houses at the scene of an explosion in the Shaw area of Oldham

Police investigating the suspicious death of a child in the Oldham gas blast may be dealing with a murder inquiry.

Jamie Heaton, aged two, died when a massive explosion tore through his home and that of a neighbour on Buckley Street in the Shaw area of Oldham on Tuesday morning.

Neighbour Andrew Partington, 27, was airlifted to hospital with severe burns. Police say they have "significant questions" for Mr Partington, who has officers waiting at his bedside for him to regain consciousness.

Sources confirmed a domestic argument involving the injured man took place in the hours before the blast, with his partner leaving their house with her five children.

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 we are treating it as a suspicious death and therefore a homicide investigation is undertaken."

He said officers were waiting for Mr Partington to regain consciousness at at Wythenshawe Hospital, Manchester. According to locals, he is a joiner originally from Rochdale who was recently made redundant.

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." Mr Partington's partner has been named locally as Tanya Williamson.

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: "The victim Jamie was in the house, we believe 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."

Prime Minister David Cameron wished police "all speed" in establishing what caused the blast: "I am sure the whole House will 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."

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. 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. Our thoughts go out to those families that have been displaced."

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