Three children die in Edinburgh house fire

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Police say that the fire may not have caused the deaths, and are treating them as suspicious (pictured: Lothian and Borders Police headquarters in Edinburgh)
Image: Richard Webb.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

A criminal investigation has begun in Edinburgh after three children were killed in a fire at a three storey house just before 3pm yesterday.

Firefighters were called to the house on Slateford Road in Scotland's capital city, for a reported gas explosion, and they put out a small fire in an upstairs room. However, there was no evidence of an explosion and none of the surrounding houses were damaged. Three young children, two boys and a girl, were found to have died at the scene. Police are treating the deaths as suspicious.

A woman, believed to be the children's mother, was found injured on the ground in front of the house and there are reports that witnesses saw her jump from a third floor balcony. She was taken for treatment at the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary.

In a statement the Lothian and Borders Police said: "The investigation into the cause of this tragedy is in its early stages." However, the police have also said that there was no fault with the gas supply.

Post-mortem examinations are due to be carried out on the children's bodies. Police said no identities would be released until these were completed.

A police spokesperson said: "A criminal investigation is currently under way and nothing more can be said at this time into the circumstances which led to their deaths."

The mother of the three children, now named as eight year olds Gianluca and Augustino and five year old Cecilia Riggi, is to be questioned by police after details emerged that suggest it is unlikely the children died in the fire.

Neighbours have reported that they heard screaming from inside the house and one source said that when they found the victims lying dead in the living room it was "a horrific scene." However reports that the children died before the fire broke out have not been confirmed by official sources and only reports by neighbours and others at the scene have indicated this.

Police refused to confirm reports that the children had died before the fire broke out, and say that the results of the post-mortems would help them decide whether to launch a murder inquiry into the incident.

According to Detective Superintendent Allan Jones the mother, Theresa Riggi, and her three children had been living in Edinburgh for little over a month since they were reported missing from their home in Skene, Aberdeenshire last month. Mrs Riggi is currently in a stable condition in hospital and Det Supt Jones said they are hoping to speak to her on Thursday. He said: "She's not in a position to speak to us at the moment."

The children were reportedly at the centre of a custody battle between Mrs Riggi and the children's father, Pasquale Riggi. He has been informed and is helping police to determine the last movements of the family. He is not a suspect in the investigation. Det Supt Jones reported: "He's heartbroken but he's very composed. He realizes he holds a lot of central information that we need. We're conscious of the trauma he's gone through."

Theresa Riggi and her husband were going through divorce proceedings and she was due to appear at the Court of Session in Edinburgh on Tuesday. She apparently did not attend the hearing. At that time the judge was told that her whereabouts were once again unknown.

The Judge, Lady Clark, granted a search warrant for Mrs Riggi and said that social workers should supervise the children, applying for child protection orders if necessary, after Mr Riggi's counsel asked for an order to safeguard the children's interests.

The children were allegedly educated at home so the Social Work Department had had no contact with the family since they moved to Scotland from the US.

It is believed that Mrs Riggi may have turned on the gas, and that a neighbour smelled the fumes and called the emergency services, which may have led to the original report of a gas explosion.

Tributes of flowers have been left close to the scene with cards of sympathy and condolences.

Update on 7 August: Mother charged with murder

Lothian and Borders Police have released a statement confirming that the post mortems of Gianluca, Augustino and Cecilia have been concluded. Following this statement a warrant was issued and Theresa Riggi was charged with murder.

A spokesman for Lothian and Borders Police said: "A 46-year-old woman has been arrested and charged with murder in connection with the petition warrant which was granted earlier today,"

"Due to the medical condition of the accused, it is not at this time known when she will appear in court."

In an earlier statement Mr. Riggi released a statement saying: "Our family is struggling to come to terms with the immense and tragic loss of three beautiful children.

'Thanks to all who have offered such great comfort and support.

'We request that the media respect our privacy at this difficult time."


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