Wednesday 22 November 2017

London house fire deaths: Victims named as Irish couple who kindly travelled to care for sick relative

Tributes paid to Joe and Anne Whelan from Cobh, Co Cork and Joe's brother, Jim

A firefighter and police officer outside the property in Laburnum Avenue, Hornchurch, the scene of a fire. Photo: Ann-Marie Abbasah
A firefighter and police officer outside the property in Laburnum Avenue, Hornchurch, the scene of a fire. Photo: Ann-Marie Abbasah
Ralph Riegel

Ralph Riegel

THE kind-hearted gesture of a retired Irish couple in flying to London to offer respite care to a sick relative ended in tragedy when all three died in an accidental house fire.

Tributes have been paid to Joe and Anne Whelan from Cobh, Co Cork who flew to Romford in Essex, a satellite of London, to care for Joe's sick brother, Jim.

All three are in their early 70s but Jim Whelan, who had lived in the UK for years, had been suffering from ill health over recent months.

He lived at Laburnum Avenue at Hornchurch in Romford, an outer suburb of London.

Tragically, a fire broke out at the mid-terraced premises in the early hours of Monday morning and all three were trapped inside.

Mrs Whelan was pronounced dead at the scene despite desperate efforts by London paramedics to revive her.

Her husband lost his brave battle for life on Tuesday evening.

However, it is understood he lived long enough for his heartbroken sons including Joe Jnr and Hugh to fly from Cork to reach his London hospital bedside.

Mr Whelan's brother, Jim, lost his battle for life yesterday having been on a life support machine.

The two brothers were originally from Dublin.

Jim Whelan had spent his entire adult life in the UK.

Joe Whelan had served for a time with the Naval Service in the 1950s before setting up home in Cobh.

His wife, Anne, nee Gannon, is from Cobh.

The couple lived on the Tay Road outside the Cork harbour town and were described by neighbours as "totally devoted to each other."

There was no answer to callers at the family home.

"I saw the two of them out walking together just the other week. You'd never see one without the other," one neighbour said.

"They were absolutely devoted to each other. Both were very private but the Whelans are a lovely family and very supportive of the Cobh

community and their neighbours.

"Everyone here is heartbroken for the family."

Another neighbour, who asked to be unnamed, said the retired couple had decided to fly to London to care for Joe's older brother.

He had been very ill over recent months but had been cared for by his devoted UK family.

"Joe and Anne just wanted to give them a bit of a break by helping look after Jim for a few days," she said.

Local newspaper, The Romford Recorder, said the blaze erupted in the early hours of Monday morning.

Neighbours desperately tried to assist the trio but were beaten back by smoke, heat and flames.

Multiple units of London Fire Brigade attended the blaze and officers equipped with breathing apparatus managed to get the trio out of the property.

Mrs Whelan was pronounced dead at the scene before she could be transferred to a nearby hospital.

Both brothers were rushed to hospital in a critical condition suffering from smoke inhalation.

Both tragically lost their battles for life over the next 36 hours.

An Essex police investigation is underway but the fire is being treated as a tragic accident.

Hornchurch neighbours indicated that Jim Whelan, who lived at the property for a number of years, had been in poor health for some time.

A total of four fire brigade units attended the scene from Hornchurch, Dagenham and Romford with 22 officers battling the blaze.

Substantial damage was caused to the mid terraced property before the blaze was brought under control.

Part of the ground floor was left gutted.

London City Fire Commissioner Dany Cotton described it as a terrible tragedy.

"My thoughts and those of everyone at the brigade are with the friends and family of the three people who died following the tragic fire in Hornchurch," he said.

"Fire fighters worked extremely hard and did all they could in the circumstances."

One Hornchurch neighbour, Jeffrey Prendergast, said fire brigade officials did everything they possibly could to save the elderly trio.

"It is tragic. There was smoke billowing out the windows," he said.

Meanwhile, Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan also shared his sympathies; “I would like to extend my deepest sympathies to the family and friends of the three people who died following a house fire in Hornchurch in Essex, on Monday.

"My Department is providing assistance to the family in this tragic case."

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