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Body of missing farmer found after firefighters battle blaze at his Co Down home

The body of an elderly farmer who was missing since a ferocious blaze engulfed his Co Down home, has been recovered.

On Monday fire crews entered the home of George Mathers (82) to search for him, as neighbours rallied round to help his farming family.

A major blaze broke out at Mr Mather's Annaclone home early on Saturday morning.

Crews from neighbouring towns tackled the blaze, which was put out shortly before 4.30pm the same day.

Flames gutted the Ballynafern Road farmhouse and caused much of the first floor to collapse.

That left the house unsafe for rescue crews to get into the building, where it is thought Mr Mathers may have been.

On Monday afternoon police confirmed that following an examination of the scene of a fire in a house in the Ballynafern Road area of Ballynaskeagh, the body of a man has been recovered from the property.

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Inspector Nigel Graham said: “The cause of the fire is still being investigated but is not believed to be suspicious at this time. Our thoughts are with the family at this most difficult time.”

Independent unionist MLA John McCallister saw the fire from his nearby home. He has known the Mathers family for years and said the tragedy has stunned locals.

"It was a huge, ferocious blaze that afternoon, it was out of control," he said.

"There's a huge sense of shock among the people, between the fire being so visible, the ferociousness, and also because George and his family farmed here for many generations.

"He was an old school farmer, he worked hard, and there were no back doors - what you saw was what you got.

"He was very well-known and well-regarded, people will have many fond memories of him," the MLA added.

It is understood two of Mr Mathers' four grown-up sons still work on the farm, where beef, sheep and arable crops have been farmed.

They also became the elderly man's carers as his health declined following his wife's death.

Mr McCallister said the sons will feel the tragedy acutely.

"For any family it must be incredibly difficult," he added.

"Something as horrific as this, and unfortunately for the family to be left in this intolerable situation, it's very difficult.

"But the main focus is on supporting them over the next few days until the remains are recovered."

Neighbours in the rural area have lent their help to the Mathers to keep the farm working, as the family waits for news.

A structural engineer was today due to examine the farmhouse to see if it is safe to be entered.

Lloyd Crawford, Fire and Rescue Service Group Commander, said searches were expected to resume today

"Any fire where there's a suspected death, and there's a large number of family is difficult," he added.

"They're grieving and want us to recover the person as soon as possible.

"The building is unstable, which is why we haven't been able to get inside properly.

"Fire crews were fighting the flames from the outside of the property.

"If the engineer says the building is safe, the PSNI and possibly the Fire and Rescue Service will carry out a joint investigation."

The home, between Rathfriland and Banbridge, was sealed off yesterday and was being treated as a crime scene until a cause has been established.

PSNI officers could be seen keeping watch over the home.

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