Walkden fire: Pair guilty of murdering four children in petrol bomb attack

24 May 2018, 12:41

Two men have been found guilty of murdering four siblings in a petrol bomb attack on their home as they slept in their beds.

The arson attack in Walkden, Greater Manchester, killed Demi Pearson, 15, her brother Brandon, eight, and her sister Lacie, seven, on 11 December last year.

Youngest child Lia, aged three, died in hospital two days after the fire, despite being rescued with her mother, Michelle Pearson, who spent months in a coma and is still recovering from her injuries in hospital.

The 36-year-old mother screamed "Not the kids! Not my kids!" before being overcome by the smoke, heat and flames.

Firefghters found Brandon face down on his bedroom floor, as if trying to crawl out, and Lacie directly behind him, suggesting she was following her brother to try to escape.

Demi was found on a bunk bed, hands stretched out to the open window, and Lia was found in the bath.

Zak Bolland, 23, admitted launching the fatal attack after being involved in a petty feud with the victims' 17-year-old brother Kyle Pearson, who escaped from the house with a friend, Bobby Harris.

"I heard like a big whoosh. I didn't look back," Bolland told the jury.

The other defendant, David Worrall, 25, was accused of removing a fence panel from the garden of Ms Pearson's mid-terrace home in Jackson Street and smashing a kitchen window before two lit petrol bombs were tossed inside at around 5am.

He was also convicted of the murders by jurors at Manchester Crown Court.

Bolland's girlfriend Courtney Brierley, 20, was found guilty of four counts of manslaughter.

CCTV shown to the jury showed Bolland and Worrall at the address at 4.55am for one minute and five seconds. The cameras recorded a flash then a larger second one from the petrol bombs, before they fled.

They had been snorting cocaine and drinking lager before they carried out the attack, with Bolland saying: "Shall we do it?" and Worrall replied: "Yeah, I'll do it."

Brierley, who claimed Bolland had a "controlling influence" over her during their "toxic" relationship, told her boyfriend: "Do it quick Zak, hurry up."

Ms Pearson had called 999 earlier that night over the last of a series of threats by Bolland, whom she had known since he was at primary school, but despite his two previous convictions for attacking women, officers did not speak to him.

The court heard Ms Pearson failed to persuade her housing association City West to move her somewhere safer after her windows and doors were smashed, graffiti was sprayed on the walls and the wheelie bin was set on fire during a two-week feud between Bolland and Kyle Pearson, who Bolland blamed for £500 of fire damage to his car.

Matt Jones, managing director of the City West Housing Trust, has claimed the association never received a request from Ms Pearson to be rehoused.

He said after the court hearing: "This has been a shocking case with tragic outcomes and our thoughts remain with the Pearson family and the local community.

"Prior to this incident, City West had never received a request for the Pearson family to be re-housed.

"We understand that a number of independent reviews examining the circumstances surrounding the case are underway and we will be supporting these investigations with other partners."

Ms Pearson complained to at least six different police officers and a device was fitted to her letter box to prevent petrol being poured in.

After one attack Bolland was arrested but was told no further action was being taken after what the jury heard was a "misunderstanding" about whether Ms Pearson was willing to give evidence.

Bolland and Worrall spent £1.50 on just over a litre of petrol on the night of the attack to make two petrol bombs which were thrown into the house.

Greater Manchester Police have been criticised for failing to stop Bolland - a man with a history of violence against women - from carrying out the attack.

Anti-domestic violence campaigner Jean Hatchet, from support group the Freedom Programme, said the police should have recognised the risk the family faced and taken action that night to protect them.

"Given his past history of violence, that should have added credibility to his threats," she said.

"He should have been brought in for questioning immediately given the direct and serious nature of the threat."

An investigation of Greater Manchester Police (GMP) by the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) is suspended pending the outcome of the trial.

The trio will be sentenced later.