AN EXPLOSION which killed a two year old toddler was caused by a gas pipe inside a property which had been cut, cops revealed today.
Little George Hinds died in the horror blast in Heysham, Lancs, on May 15 which left four others – including both his parents – in hospital.
The police enquiry is now being classed as a criminal investigation after officers identified the cause of the explosion as a cut gas pipe inside one of the properties.
Firefighters, police and paramedics scrambled to Mallowdale Avenue at around 2.30am after residents were woken by the sound of a massive blast.
Two homes were completely collapsed as a result of the explosion, while another was seriously damaged.
George's parents Vicky Studholme and Stephen Hinds were also injured and rushed to hospital but have since been discharged.
Two other people – a man aged 44 and a woman aged 50 – remain in hospital with injuries described as critical.
Detectives, assisted by gas experts, have been carrying out a fingertip search of the scene following the explosion and have now identified the cause of the explosion as a gas pipe which had been cut inside No. 20, Mallowdale Avenue.
Enquiries are ongoing into how and why the pipe came to be severed.
Detective Chief Insp Jane Webb, of the Force Major Investigation Team, said: "My thoughts first and foremost remain with George's family and loved ones at this time, as well as those others affected by this incident.
"An incredible amount of work has been done at the scene in a relatively short space of time and as well as identifying the source of the explosion we have also managed to recover some items of George's, which I know means a lot to his parents.
"Our focus now is on trying to establish how and why the pipe inside No. 20 came to be cut and those enquiries are complex and lengthy.
"I would like to thank the community for their help so far and I want to continue to appeal to anyone who may have information which could assist our investigation to come forward and contact us.
"Even if you think the information you have is insignificant or irrelevant please tell us and we can be the judge."
George's parents said in a statement released by cops after the tragedy: “We are devastated at the loss of our beautiful George.
“He was so precious to us. We have no words to describe how we feel and just want time to ourselves to come to terms with what has happened.
“Our beautiful little angel grew his wings today.”
Residents on the quiet street had been sound asleep when they were suddenly woken by the blast.
One neighbour compared it to an “earthquake” and another said the destruction was like the “aftermath of the Blitz”.
Some reported hearing the blast as far away as Lancaster – nine miles from the scene.
Around 80 firefighters and 10 fire engines attended as the road was closed and homes evacuated after a major incident was declared.
Neighbour Rachel Smith, 42, added: "It sounded like a bomb had gone off.
"I was woken by this huge bang. It was a big shock and it's devastating that a child has died."
Another neighbour, who did not wish to be named, said: "I was woken by this huge bang.
"My bed shook – it was very scary. I looked out and it looked like utter devastation."
A fundrasing page set up to help Mallowdale Avenue residents had reached tens of thousands of pounds in just a few hours.
Lancashire Fire said on the day that 10 units were called to a row of homes in the area at around 2.30am and that firefighters were searching a collapsed property.
They later said in a statement: "Two fire engines, the urban search and rescue unit, search and rescue dogs and the air support unit remain at the incident.
"Search operations continue and we are working with partners to make the area safe and investigate the cause of the explosion."
Anyone with any information should contact police on 101 quoting log 0180 of May 16 or on the Major Incident Portal at mipp.police.uk/operation/0401020121W04-PO1
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