Mum fighting cancer told her family wiped out in gas leak
Published 20/12/2011 | 05:00
HOSPITAL staff had to break it to cancer patient Susie Wallwork that her husband and step children Kim (12) and Harry (9) were all dead just a week before Christmas.
The mum, originally from England, was visited by her family on Sunday but just hours later her husband Trevor (52) was found dead in his armchair while the children’s bodies were discovered on the floor in front of the television.
Investigators are now keeping an "open mind" on how the family died in what was described as a "tragic incident" in a remote cottage in Co Sligo.
Mr Wallwork was found dead in his armchair by his stepdaughter Vicki Barnes late on Sunday night. The television and the lights on their Christmas tree were still on.
The family had visited their seriously ill step-mother in hospital before they were found dead from carbon monoxide poisoning. Mr Wallwork had been telling friends about fears for his sick wife in recent days.
Post-mortem results carried out yesterday found the three had died from carbon monoxide poisoning.
However, toxicology reports will also be carried out on all three as part of the investigation to find out how the tragedy occurred. Tests were due to be undertaken following last night's post mortem examination.
Last night, a senior garda source said it was too early to say whether or not this was "an accident or a deliberate incident. There are aspects to this which need further investigation and foul play has not been ruled out yet."
Forensic officers spent the day examining the scene, and later removed a gas heater and a gas cylinder from the bungalow named 'Forget Me Not Cottage'. They also removed a number of empty tablet boxes.
Experts from the fire brigade are due to visit the house today to examine an open fireplace to see if it was the cause of the carbon monoxide poisoning.
"Bubbly and bright" siblings Kim and Harry were found dead on the living room floor of the house, just outside the Co Sligo village of Gurteen.
Two family dogs were also dead in the room.
A neighbour told how stepdaughter Vicki ran into her home "in an awful state" after finding the bodies.
"She said she found Trevor and the kids dead. It was just awful."
Vicki (22) had just been visiting her mother Susan at Sligo General Hospital and drove to the house when she couldn't get an answer to her stepdad's phone.
Last night the bodies of Mr Wallwork, Kim and Harry were taken to the same hospital for a post mortem examination.
Local farmer Michael McKeown told the Irish Independent that he had gotten to know the children Kim and Harry in the past couple of years.
The family had settled in the townland of Moygara six years ago after moving there from England.
"I'd pick them up on the lane to the house when they were walking home from school in the afternoons," said Mr McKeown.
"They were bright and bubbly; very intelligent and full of questions. They were fascinated by animals and were always asking about the sheep and the lambs.
"This is just dreadful what has happened, so close to Christmas. It's extremely sad to see two young people like that lose their lives with their father."
Petrol station owner Christy O'Grady described Mr Wallwork as "a lovely decent man" who had discussed his wife's illness recently.
"You get a lot of English people who move over and you wouldn't get to know them, but I always made a point of speaking to Trevor.
"You would think you knew him all your life. We often talked about Sue and her illness," he said.
The children had been pupils at Mullaghroe National School where shocked teachers were being comforted yesterday.
"It is just terrible. We can't take this in," said the parent of a child at the school. "We'll have to sit down with the children tonight and talk to them about it."
"They were lovely children," said another mother. "We can't believe this has happened. It is so tragic and with their stepmum so ill in hospital, God help her. We'll pray for her."
Inspector Colm Nevin, who is in charge of the garda inquiry, said forensics officers are investigating the gas heater and container.
"We have taken possession of a gas container which was found in a separate room and it was connected to a heater," he said. "We are keeping an open mind until all investigations are complete."
Deputy State Pathologist Michael Curtis visited the scene for an hour yesterday.
Gardai were in contact with relatives in Leeds and Staffordshire yesterday, with arrangements being made for some of them to come to Ireland tomorrow.
Meanwhile distraught Vicki spent yesterday by her mother's side in hospital as news of the horrific deaths spread.
Joe Shannon, a former councillor for the area, said the community was numbed.
"It hasn't sunk in yet," he said. "All we can do as a community now is to pull together and offer our sympathies to the family and friends.
"It really is a horrible thing to have happened; and even more horrible a few days before Christmas."