28/08/2008

Fire Ravaged Mansion Echoes Another Tragedy

There were echoes today of another tragic fire - and a strong connection to Northern Ireland - as the police wait to enter a Shropshire mansion destroyed in a huge mystery blaze.

As the tortured search for bodies continues, millionaire Christopher Foster, his wife Jill and their 15-year-old daughter Kirstie remain "missing" since the suspected arson attack at their mansion-style house in Maesbrook, near Oswestry, Shropshire, on Tuesday morning.

Fire crews continue to dampen the house down following the blaze which began around 5am and destroyed a stable block and garage - killing pets and horses - and badly damaged the house itself.

Police have refused to say if their investigation is a missing persons inquiry or a murder probe or comment on reports that a horsebox had been parked in front of the gates to the property as the blaze took hold, blocking the entrance to emergency services.

It will be some time before there is likely to be a result as Superintendent Gary Higgins said the search was likely to take several days: "It is a large property and there is a lot of debris inside which will have to be painstakingly sifted through and examined.

"This is not something which can be done quickly.

"Once we have access to the house, we will find out whether the family was inside at the time of the fire."

Back in February 2000, Conservative MP Michael Colvin and his wife Nichola died in a similarly massive fire which destroyed their country mansion.
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The backbencher and former Army officer was also a keen supporter of country pursuits and also took a great interest in military matters and in Northern Ireland generally.

Back then, as in this case, fire crews were still on site damping down the shell of the Colvins' home eight hours after being called to the blaze.

They also had to abandon any attempt to enter the ruins until days later, with the remains only recovered after officers had spent almost a week shifting through the house near Andover.

Mr Colvin, who had significant links with Northern Ireland, being the Parliamentary Representative of the powerful vintners organisation, the Federation of the Retail Licensed Trade NI, was described as one of the few remaining Tory squires at Westminster.

Initially there were suspicions about how that fire started too as the MP, who had one son and two daughters, was Chairman of the Council for Country Sports and spent eight years as Vice-Chairman of the British Field Sports Society.

Mr Colvin also served on a number of committees, including the defence sub-committee, and was a keen supporter of trade links with South Africa.

In a fitting postscript, a fundraising appeal at the local Romsey Hospital reached its £1.3m target after a donation in memory of the town's tragic MP Michael Colvin.

Three years after the tragedy, the appeal succeeded in achieving their grand total after £10,000 was handed over by the late MP's family.

Mr Colvin and wife Nichola were firm supporters of the appeal and the final two projects at the hospital - an endoscopy suite and an X-ray unit - were completed as a result.

(BMcC)

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