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'If it wasn't for our neighbours raising the alarm we'd be gone'

Lucky no one dead after arson attack while family was asleep

By Donna Deeney

Published 13/04/2016

The fire damaged house
The fire damaged house
Martin Stokes, neighbour Celia Mullan, who was in the house at the time of the blaze, Margaret Stokes and Lena Stokes

Four people were lucky to escape with their lives after the house they were sleeping in was set on fire in an arson attack.

Blackened walls, charred wood and a gap where the front door used to be bears testament to how narrow an escape Margaret Stokes, her son, daughter and friend had in the early hours of yesterday.

Neither Mrs Stokes nor her family have any idea why someone piled up furniture against their front door and set it alight. The people in the house only escaped after neighbours saw the flames and raised the alarm.

Mrs Stokes, who has lived at her home in Drumard Park in Londonderry for almost 40 years, said she would not leave the property as it held too many memories for her.

She recalled the panic and fear she felt as son Martin burst into her bedroom and told her the house was burning down.

"I have lived her for 39 years and reared my 11 children in this house and I have never had any bother from anyone," she said.

"The first I knew was when my son Martin called to me and my daughter that there was a fire.

"I could hear the crack of the flames. The smoke was everywhere and I couldn't think where I should go or what I should do. I couldn't think straight.

"I ran into the living room to get the photo of my son who died. My friend was asleep on the sofa, so we had to get her out too.

"My neighbours saw the fire and it was my neighbours who rang the fire brigade. They saved our lives. We would be dead if it wasn't for them.

"I am so thankful that none of my grandchildren were in the house.

"I have eight and they come here to see me every day, and if any of them had been here it would have been worse."

The blaze caused considerable smoke damage to the inside of the property, and the exterior damage will take some time to repair, but Mrs Stokes said she was determined to stay.

"I reared my family in this house and I waked my son here. It is full of my memories so I cannot leave," she added.

"I cannot understand why anyone would do this. They will not have any luck and they will have a curse on them for the rest of their lives for doing this."

The arson attack and a possible motive is being investigated by police.

Detective Sergeant Brian Reid said: "At around 3am police were alerted to a fire at a house in Drumard Park. It appears that some old furniture was deliberately placed against the front door of the property and set alight, blocking the doorway.

"Thankfully all four residents who were inside were able to make their way out safely via the back door. However, the front of the home was badly damaged by the blaze.

"A motive for the incident has not yet been established and we are keen to hear from anyone who has any information regarding this crime. The number to call is 101."

Belfast Telegraph

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