Four sleeping children ‘murdered in arson attack triggered by feud’
Three face trial over deadly blaze which ripped through family home
Four sleeping children were murdered after being trapped in their bedrooms when their house was torched with petrol bombs in the dead of night, a court has heard.
Zak Bolland, 23, launched the fatal attack after being involved in a feud with the victims’ 16-year-old brother Kyle Pearson, a jury at Manchester Crown Court was told.
Bolland along with David Worrall, 25, removed a fence panel from the garden of Pearson’s home, smashed a kitchen window and tossed in two lit petrol bombs, it is alleged.
One landed near the stairs, blocking the only exit to the ground floor and trapping the victims upstairs as flames engulfed the three bedroom mid-terrace house on Jackson Street, Walkden, Greater Manchester.
Demi Pearson, 15, her brother, Brandon, aged eight and sister, Lacie, aged seven, sleeping in a front bedroom, all perished in the blaze, started at around 5am on December 11 last year.
“Their apparently lifeless bodies were recovered by the firefighters who attended and battled their way through the heat, smoke and flames,” Paul Reid QC, prosecuting, told the court.
Their mother, Michelle Pearson, 35, was rescued along with her youngest daughter, Lia, aged three, who died in hospital two days later.
Kyle Pearson, who had been feuding with Bolland, managed to escape along with a friend, Bobby Harris, who was also staying at the house.
The teen saw the light from his sister Demi’s mobile phone at the window before she coughed in the thick smoke then appeared to fall away from the window, the court heard.
The firebombing was the culmination of a series of tit-for-tat attacks between Bolland and Kyle Pearson, Mr Reid told the jury of five women and seven men as the prosecution opened the case at the start of the trial, which is scheduled to last up to six weeks.
Bolland and Kyle Pearson had been friends until the accused’s Ford Focus was set on fire around November 25 last year, about two weeks before the fatal attack, and he blamed the teenager.
The defendant demanded £500, sending harassing text messages, including one demanding: “Fire letter box I want my my £500.”
Both sides launched attacks, breaking windows in each other’s homes with Bolland threatening to fire bomb Kyle’s house, the court heard.
The threat led Mrs Pearson to call police on November 26 and as a result the fire service fitted a letter box cover.
But due to an “apparent misunderstanding” police decided to take no action against Bolland for smashing windows at Mrs Pearson’s home – and days later he was back, “laughing” that he had escaped police action and shouting “Grass”, the court heard.
Mrs Pearson again called police and asked for a restraining order but two days before her children were murdered, her bin was set on fire and the word “Grass” was spray-painted on her house.
The day before the attack the three defendants spent the day drinking before Bolland and Worrall made their first visit to Jackson Street around half past midnight on December 11, four hours before the fire.
Bolland and Worrall attacked the door before Bolland shouted: “Watch, all your family’s getting it, they’re all gonna die.”
When police arrived they took a statement from Mrs Pearson, one officer checking on the youngsters upstairs, who were asleep.
Kyle Pearson was “really worried” they would return so he got a door not attached to the frame and wedged it behind the front door.
The court heard that he later woke up in his smoke-logged bedroom to hear his mum shouting there was a fire.
He and Bobby Harris climbed out of their bedroom window onto a canopy above the front door to escape.
Three fire engines were scrambled, the first arriving at 5.04am with firefighters Janine Chadwick and Mark Berry using breathing apparatus and thermal image cameras to search inside.
Michelle Pearson was found first on the bathroom floor and carried to the front garden.
In the larger front bedroom Brandon was found lying face down with his head towards the landing as if he had been trying to crawl out of the room.
Lacie was on the floor with her head towards her brother as if she had been following him.
Demi was found on the bottom bunk bed, her feet on the floor with her hands stretched out to the open window.
It looked like she may have directed her younger siblings to open the door and she had then tried to open the window, the court heard.
Lia was the last to be found, lying in the bath.
All the children were laid outside while paramedics worked on them, but only Lia showed signs of life.
But she suffered devastating injuries and life-support was withdrawn two days later.
Mrs Pearson survived but is still seriously ill in hospital.
Bolland, his girlfriend Courtney Brierley, 20, and father-of-one Worrall all deny four counts of murder.
They also deny three counts of attempted murder relating to Mrs Pearson, Kyle Pearson and Bobby Harris.
Bolland has admitted reckless arson, a charge denied by the other two.
Bolland and Brierley were arrested around 6pm, the same day of the fire and Worrall the day after.
Bolland admits he had been drinking beer and taking cocaine and admits throwing the second petrol bomb but claims he intended only to damage the house, which he claims he thought was not occupied.
Worrall claims he thought they were only going to set fire to wheelie bins and denies throwing a petrol bomb.
Brierley claims she did not know the two men had petrol bombs and claims Bolland had a “controlling influence” over her.
The trial continues.
Statements made to police by Mrs Pearson following attacks on her house before the fatal fire were read to the jury.
She told officers she had lived at the address for 14 years but on November 26 harassing texts began from Bolland and the same day her windows were broken, causing £700 damage.
She initially said she would support a prosecution by going to court and also said she had seen a text from Bolland saying: “I will petrol bomb your house.”
In a second statement she added: “I suffer from anxiety attacks so I don’t wish to attend court.”
However a police officer later told her because of her anxiety she would not have to attend court in person.
Police were called again after Bolland went to her house bragging that the police were not going to prosecute him for smashing her windows.
This time she told the officers: “I was horrified by this decision.
“It was a complete misunderstanding, I thought I would have to go to court. At the time I was so stressed out I did not take everything in properly.
“Now I understand, I would be willing to support a prosecution.”
Mrs Pearson told police she felt “unsafe” living at the address and had spoken to City West, her housing association.
The jury watched the police interview with Kyle Pearson, recorded after the attack.
He was woken by his mother shouting “fire”, and saw the glow of flames on his bedroom wall.
After escaping the house he compared the flames coming out of his bedroom window as like those coming from a jet engine and was unable to save his family.
He added: “There was no way of getting to them.
“I had a gut feeling something was going to happen.
“It was all just like petty arguments. I would have settled it on the street, one on one, but it’s not like that nowadays.”
He said his mother had told the housing association she felt “in danger of my life” living at the address.
The trial was adjourned until Wednesday morning.