Police visited Leverington home in response to metal thefts twice in 48 hours before explosion
CONFLICTING statements have emerged over the extent and seriousness of copper piping thefts from a bungalow destroyed in a gas explosion in the early hours of Monday.
An investigation by the Wisbech Standard has uncovered discrepancies in the explanation of events of the weekend prior to the explosion.
What is not in doubt is that police visited the Leverington home twice in the preceding 48 hours following thefts of copper piping and a copper tank.
Fire service incident commander Gary Reach said: “We are 99.9 per cent sure the metal theft has resulted in the explosion.”
But questions remain as to whether appropriate action was taken to minimise the risk to neighbours.
“I am just grateful that neither I nor the missus got hurt,” said Ian Gowler who lived next door in St Leonard’s Road.
Miraculously no one was injured but what happened at the bungalow over the weekend – and in the days before- form part of a police investigation.
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The bungalow is owned by Roddons Housing Association and they confirmed this week that the man who had been living there had given them four weeks notice to quit, with his tenancy due to end of the day of the explosion.
Police insist the former tenant is not a suspect but clearly a victim since although he had effectively moved out he had been back at the weekend to finalise packing and discovered the thefts.
“On Saturday officers went to the home following reports that offenders had broken in and stolen a copper tank along with some other items including a washing machine,” said a police spokesman. “That burglary had taken place between March 1 and 10”.
Roddons also said they went to the house on Saturday “together with the police. “When we attended the property the boiler and all gas piping were in place and were not connected to this report.”
Their statement is at odds with Cambs Police since it failed to mention any thefts whatsoever and did not explain why they had not shut off all utilities to the property.
On Sunday police said they were called back to the bungalow – again by the tenant- follow further thefts overnight.
“We received a report that offenders had again entered the property and removed copper piping sometime between 2.30pm on Saturday and 9.30am the following day,” said a spokesman.
“This had resulted in a small water leak so we contacted the housing association to attend and fix the leak. It is not clear if there was a further break-in which led to the gas leak and subsequent explosion or if it was the result of the theft overnight from Saturday to Sunday- we are still investigating.”
Roddons, however, say the report to them on Sunday was not of copper piping but of “the outside tap, which our plumber tried to attend to fix but the resident wasn’t available and a calling card was left”.
That card, showing the plumber tried to gain access at 1.46pm, offered no indication that he was aware the house was vacant or that he knew of copper piping having been removed.
Roddons insisted this week they had carried out their annual gas safety checks at the house last July “and at no time prior to the explosion did we have reported to us, nor did we attend the property as a result of, a suspected gas leak or any theft relating to gas appliances/piping.”
Pushed further to explain what they checked – or didn’t check- over the weekend, Roddons said on Saturday it was clear to them it was a water tank which had been stolen.
“The only pipe/pipe-work relating to this would have been water,” said their spokesman.
Asked whether the police reports of more copper piping being stolen overnight on Saturday should have prompted speedier intervention, the Roddons spokesman said it would be “inappropriate to further comment bearing in mind this is subject to an ongoing police investigation where some of the detail is likely only to be known by any offender(s).”