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Community demands answers over girl’s ‘unnecessary’ death in gas explosion

The scene in Galpin’s Road, Thornton Heath (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)
The scene in Galpin’s Road, Thornton Heath (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)

A young girl killed in a gas explosion in south London has been named locally as Sahara Salman as the community demanded answers over her “unnecessary” death.

Sahara, who was four-years-old, died after a terraced house collapsed in Galpin’s Road, Thornton Heath, shortly after 7am on Monday.

Three other people were also seriously injured in the blast.

The scene in Galpin’s Road, Thornton Heath
A 200-metre cordon was put in place following the explosion (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)

Six to eight houses were damaged in the explosion, but around 80 homes were evacuated after the cordon was extended on Tuesday over fears for residents’ safety.

On Wednesday morning, Merton Council confirmed that the 200-metre cordon would remain in place on the advice of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and did not provide any further detail about when it may be removed.

The council said in a statement: “Southern Gas Networks also remain on site, and residents are reminded to stay away from the cordon area.”

Reverend Deji Ayorinde, who is helping co-ordinate the community efforts after the blast, told the PA news agency of the anger of the community following Sahara’s death.

He said: “I think her death was unnecessary, unnecessary, I emphasise unnecessary.

“However, her life shouldn’t be needless, you know, those four years, some of us will live to 100, some of us will live to 40 or 80 or 60, or whatever it may be. And it is our hope, everybody’s hope, dream, that we can leave some sort of footprint, some sort of impact, make some sort of difference.

Gas engineers at work near the scene of the explosion on Galpin’s Road in Thornton Heath
Gas engineers remained on site (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

“She only lived for four years, but it is now incumbent upon us to ensure that her name, you know, what she lived for, what she represented – because as a child she represented life and hope and security and a future, a good future –  it’s incumbent upon us who are living, to carry that on.

“To ensure what she stands for, even if it be that she stands for a change, whereby those in positions of influence, authority and responsibility can actually take ownership and particularly listen to the voice of the individuals.

“We saw it with Lakanal in 2009, we saw it with Grenfell in 2017, we’re seeing it in Galpin’s in 2022.

“And it’s like, for goodness’ sake, you people in authority, people in responsibility, when will you actually just be responsible and listen to the voices of the individuals?

“It didn’t need to cost lives for change to happen, it didn’t need to. So that’s where we’re at. That’s where I’m at. That’s where, certainly as a community, I think that’s a big aspect of what we’re feeling right now.”

Nick and Maria Hillman live about 40 houses down from the destroyed property and said there was a “strong smell of gas” on the street when they were evacuated on Tuesday, which caused concern that a spark of electricity would cause a second explosion.

A woman lays flowers near Galpin’s Road in Thornton Heath, south London
People laid flowers near Galpin’s Road (Dominic Lipinski/PA)

They were ordered to evacuate by a police officer at around midday on Tuesday, and were given less than 10 minutes to leave their property.

Mrs Hillman told PA: “Yesterday, at some point in the day, there was a strong smell of gas and I think that sort of the emergency services believed that if they allowed people to stay, they would have switched on the electric.”

Mr Hillman added: “SGN said that anything could ignite – the gas levels were unacceptably high and anything could ignite, it would cause another explosion.”

The couple said that anger towards SGN continued to rise at a meeting of evacuated residents on Tuesday evening.

Mr Hillman said: “Last night in the meeting, quite a lot of people were getting very vocal and shouting and saying, “where are they, where are they, where are they?”

Mrs Hillman was concerned for her own home, as well as the possible risk to the lives of others, and said: “I was concerned that maybe not just my house, but other people could be blown up at some point because we weren’t sure if there was still a leak.

“But yeah, I guess I don’t think we’re ever going to stop feeling worried for a while.”

The scene in Galpin’s Road, Thornton Heath
Around 80 homes were evacuated after the cordon was extended on Tuesday (Kirsty O’Connor/PA)

Some residents were also frustrated by the response from their insurance companies, some of whom Mr Hillman said were “disowning” those who had been forced to evacuate because of the explosion but who did not yet have any physical damage to their properties from the blast.

“Lots of the insurance companies are just disowning it because there’s no damage to the property. So a lot of the insurance companies are saying ‘your property isn’t damaged, we’ve got no liability’,” he added.

Mr Hillman said he waited an hour and 20 minutes for their insurers to tell them that “because there was no damage to our house, we could get nothing”.

He added: “I shall be changing my insurer as soon as all this is over.”

The council has provided assistance to more than 200 residents, including help with food and accommodation.

Local residents and businesses are bringing donations of clothes and toiletries to those who are displaced, and championship towels from the Wimbledon tennis tournament are also being donated by the All England Club’s Wimbledon Foundation.

A spokesman for SGN said: “We understand the local community has also been deeply affected by the serious incident and we’d like to reassure everyone we are working closely with investigators and assisting the emergency services.

“SGN will continue to have a presence on site in the coming days.

“Given the ongoing police investigation, we are unable to comment any further at this stage.”