Stoke & Staffordshire

Stafford fire deaths: Funeral for four children killed in blaze

Media playback is unsupported on your device
Media captionHorse-drawn procession for four children killed in fire

The funeral has begun for four children who were killed in a house fire in Staffordshire.

Riley Holt, eight, Keegan Unitt, six, Tilly Rose Unitt, four, and Olly Unitt, three, all died in Stafford on 5 February.

The private funeral service was preceded by a procession though the Highfields estate where they lived.

Police said a memorial service was being planned for a future date where the community would be welcomed.

Although the funeral at Stafford Crematorium was for relatives and close friends only, the family suggested neighbours could show support by putting teddy bears or toys in their windows.

Image copyright Police handout
Image caption (L-R) Keegan, Tilly Rose, Olly and Riley died in the blaze in the early hours of 5 February
Image caption Soft toys were seen in windows in memory of the children

Mourners expressed their sadness and shock at the loss of such young lives.

Steve, who did not want to give his last name, said his children had known some of the youngsters.

He said: "It's a horrendous situation... in general the public outcry has been the hardest thing to explain to the kids because they don't really understand."

Another man from Highfields, who did not give his name, said: "I've come to pay my respects to the children.

"It's very, very sad. A tragedy. When we've found out what caused it, it'll be a relief to everyone."

At the scene

BBC Radio Stoke reporter Jennie Aitken

The wind and the rain did not stop the people of Highfields turning up to pay their respects to the children.

The procession itself included a police escort with an empty hearse leading the way followed by two black horse-drawn carriages, each horse draped in purple.

The first carriage was for Riley and Tilly Rose, their names in cream-coloured flowers on top of the glass carriage carrying their small white coffins.

The second carriage was for Olly and Keegan, also with white coffins, and a number of limousines and plenty of cars followed.

It takes your breath away seeing a procession like that, seeing those coffins so small, lives taken so, so soon.

The blaze was the "most tragic" case that chief fire officer Becci Bryant has faced in 28 years' service.

"The magnitude of losing four children under the age of 10 is extraordinary," the Staffordshire Fire and Rescue Service chief said.

"I am not afraid to say that before I drove home I needed to stop and have a cry about what I had seen and what the impact had been on the crews right then and there.

"I hope I never, and none of my staff ever, have to go through something like that again."

Image copyright Staffordshire Fire and Rescue Service
Image caption Chief Fire Officer Becci Bryant said the blaze was the most "tragic" she has seen

How the children died remains "yet to be ascertained" but Staffordshire Police has ruled out an exploding boiler and cannabis growth as the cause of the fire.

Ms Bryant said the fire service was continuing to support the police investigation.

A 24-year-old woman and a man, 28, who were arrested on suspicion of manslaughter by gross negligence have been released while inquiries continue.

The children's mother, Natalie Unitt, and her partner, Chris Moulton, survived the fire along with the siblings' two-year-old brother, Jack.

Image copyright PA
Image caption The cause of the fire is not yet known

Follow BBC West Midlands on Facebook, on Twitter, and sign up for local news updates direct to your phone.

More on this story

Related Internet links

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites