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Residents want answers after girl killed in gas explosion

The scene in Galpin’s Road in Thornton Heath, south London. (PA/Amarjit Kaur)
The scene in Galpin’s Road in Thornton Heath, south London. (PA/Amarjit Kaur)

A community in south London is searching for answers after a young girl was killed in a suspected gas explosion.

The child, believed to be aged four, died and three others were injured after a terraced house collapsed following an explosion and fire on Galpin’s Road in Thornton Heath at just after 7am on Monday.

Police confirmed the girl’s body was recovered from a building, while the three others were taken to hospital. A fourth person was treated at the scene.

Two of the road’s residents were hailed as “heroes” after they rescued three children from a house moments after the blast.

Leader of Merton Council Ross Garrod described the incident as a gas explosion, while firefighters said investigations to establish the cause were ongoing.

Residents said they had reported a strong gas smell in the area which had persisted for around two weeks, while others said engineers had been working on the street and digging holes in people’s homes in recent days to resolve the issue.

More than 100 people were evacuated to the nearby New Horizon’s Centre on Monday, where they were briefed on the situation by Merton Council officers, the Metropolitan Police and London Fire Brigade later in the evening.

Some grew agitated and raised their voices as they were told they would not be able to return to their homes and that workers had been unable to turn off the gas.

Thornton Heath incident
Emergency services at the scene in Galpin’s Road (PA)

Reverend Deji Ayorinde, of the nearby Pollards Hill Baptist Church, told the PA news agency: “There is anger in the room. There is anger in the community surrounding unanswered questions.”

He said there was anger that no representatives of gas companies were at the briefing to answer questions.

“This thing was reported and it still wasn’t resolved days or weeks later,” he said.

“Who takes ownership for that? The anger has built up because it has now cost a life and that’s a catalyst for the strength of emotion around this.”

The electricity was switched off on Galpin’s Road as a precaution, which also affected households that were not in the cordoned-off exclusion zone, PA understands.

Residents were being housed in nearby accommodation by the council, with one telling PA that authorities said it could take five to 10 days before they could go home.

Thornton Heath incident
The scene in Galpin’s Road (PA)

The 48-year-old, who lives on Galpin’s Road and wished to remain anonymous, also said the gas company not turning up to the community centre to answer questions from residents was “disrespectful”.

She said: “They have not been here. Everyone is disgusted. It is heartbreaking, it is disrespectful. They owe it to the people who have supported the family.”

The woman said she had had nose bleeds in recent days while others on the street had felt unwell.

Deborah Monfries, 62, told PA that both she and her husband Arthur, 62, started experiencing symptoms like dizziness.

In an update on Monday evening, the council said: “More than 100 residents have been evacuated from Galpin’s Road.

“Council officers are at New Horizon Centre organising accommodation for those people, while the emergency services continue to work in the area.”

PA has contacted gas distribution company SGN, which is the gas emergency service in the area, for comment.

A spokeswoman from the firm said in a statement earlier on Monday: “Following the explosion in Galpin’s Road, Thornton Heath, earlier today, our deepest sympathies are with the family of the child who has tragically died as well as those who have been injured.

“We’d like to reassure everyone that our engineers are working closely with the emergency services to establish the cause of the explosion. Given the ongoing police investigation, it is inappropriate to comment any further at this stage.”