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Body found during search at Cheshire blast mill

Published 19/07/2015

Search and rescue teams at the scene of the blast in Bosley, Cheshire
Search and rescue teams at the scene of the blast in Bosley, Cheshire

A body has been found by rescue teams searching for four workers missing after an explosion and fire at a mill.

The families of William Barks, 51, Dorothy Bailey, 62, Jason Shingler, 38, and Derek Moore, 62, have been informed but the body has not yet been positively identified, Cheshire Police said.

All four are missing somewhere in the devastated wreckage of the wood flour mill after an explosion and 1,000 centigrade inferno reduced the four-storey building to rubble.

Fire and rescue teams have been working non-stop to find the missing four since the blast at around 9.10am on Friday at the mill in the village of Bosley, Cheshire.

But fire chiefs conceded that while they carry on the methodical search of the site, the chances of finding anyone alive are fading.

Tonight police confirmed that a body had been located.

In a statement Cheshire Police said: "This is a particularly difficult time for the families involved and it is with regret that Cheshire Police are confirming this evening that a body has been located in one of the two areas being searched.

"The body has not been positively identified. The four families who are awaiting news about their family member have been informed of this development and HM Coroner has been informed.

"Emergency services have remained at the scene of a major incident in Bosley thoughout the day.

"The operation at the site has continued throughout the day concentrating on two areas identified by the search and rescue efforts.

"The thoughts of all the agencies involved are with the families at this time and Cheshire Police are asking members of the media to respect the family's privacy as they try to come to terms with this latest development. "

Earlier today Guy Hindle, assistant chief constable of Cheshire Police, confirmed the search was continuing in the hope they would find survivors.

He said: "We are still in search phase, we are still looking for signs of life down at the scene ... at some point in the next days we will hand over the scene from fire to police for a joint investigation with the Health and Safety Executive to establish the cause of what happened down there, together with fire investigators."

Paul Hancock, chief fire officer for Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service, said: "The whole mental psyche of the crews down at the site is they are looking for people still alive. They will not give up hope until they locate these four individuals.

"The scene down there is one of complete devastation. We have a building that has exploded from the inside and subsequently collapsed in on itself."

Details have emerged that council enforcement officers were on the site just two weeks ago to make sure the firm cleared the area after complaints of saw dust. The site was also struck by two fires, in 2010 and 2012.

Michael Jones, leader of Cheshire East council, said: "We were on site two weeks ago clearing it up and they did well to clear it up. We will produce that evidence as and when necessary.

"The fact is this is the sort of industry that has a lot of problems tied to the dust and what happens around it.

"We shouldn't assume anything. We mustn't go down the trail of assuming anything. We will make all facts available of what we know.

"There are ongoing complaints, but when you have this nature of business, close to a community, there will be complaints about dust and noise and pollution which we as a council have been dealing with.

"We were there to clean up a situation of dust particles in the area, at the exterior to it, that shouldn't have been in there and we did clear it up and we have got before and after pictures showing what a job they did and they did comply completely with our orders."

Police said they will be working in the next few days with the company - which has yet to make any statement about the incident.

David Rutley, the MP for Macclesfield, said: "I think it's important to say the business does need to get involved with the investigation, because there are questions in the community that need to be answered, and today is not that day, today is about the families and in due course those questions, those important questions, will need to be answered."

This morning prayers were said at St Mary the Virgin parish church in Bosley, with loved ones of the missing joining the congregation.

The Rev John Harries told parishioners: "Our hearts and thoughts and prayers go out to those still waiting - waiting for news, still sat by the bedsides of their loved ones in hospital, and for those still trying to come to terms with all that has happened over the last 48 hours.

"Homes destroyed, families distraught, a community in deep distress."

Local Methodist minister the Rev Pam Butler, whose church is within the police cordon close to the mill, spoke of "the turmoil of emotion each of us is experiencing".

She added: "Our hearts go out to all who were there.

"People, it's fair to say, are feeling angry as well as (having an) overwhelming feeling of sadness.

"We do have in our midst the loved ones of those who are still missing."

A relative of one of the missing workers, Dorothy Bailey, said the family and other workers are yet to hear anything from their employers.

Ms Bailey's brother, Philip, 58, told the Mail on Sunday he was clinging to the faintest of hopes that she had survived.

"We've had no confirmation yet because they're still searching," he said. "But I'm fearing the worst. I think her only chance would have been if she'd been protected by an air pocket. That's the only way she could have survived.

"But I don't think any of them will have survived. The fireball would have burned them so quickly. That may be the only bit of comfort for us - that it will have been quick.

"The fireball will have come down at such speed. And it will have kept exploding. Everyone who's ever worked there knows the potential hazards. Dorothy knew that. She used to say, 'If it goes, it goes'."

A spokesman for Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service said the search will continue to nightfall and then break off until first light tomorrow.

Meanwhile the eight fire engines still at the scene will damp down some of the still smoking silos in danger of collapsing.

Police and HSE investigators are also working on site.

The mill, which made linoleum products out of wood ground down to a powder or flour, is run by Wood Treatment Ltd, part of the Boden Group of companies.

A firm run by the same group, called Boden and Davies, was fined £8,000 with £709 costs at Trafford Magistrates' Court on June 20 last year for breach of the Health and Safety At Work Act 1974 at their main depot in Astley, near Manchester.

The HSE website says the offence dated back to October 16 2012 and lists a number of enforcement notices served on the firm.

The Boden family, who own and operate the mill and associated companies, live in a complex of three 17th century farmhouses in Mellor, near Stockport.

There was no reply at any of the houses when reporters called today.

Firefighters are expected to remain at the mill site for a number of days.

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