Blast 'like IRA bomb'

ACC Steve Heywood said he was 'emotional' after looking round the damage Photo: ITV Granada

A senior police officer has compared the damage cause by a massive explosion which killed a child yesterday to the IRA's Manchester bombing.

Greater Manchester assistant chief constable Steve Heywood, speaking near the scene of the blast in Shaw, said: "This looks like there has been a bomb. The devastation is absolutely tremendous."

Two-year-old Jamie Heaton was killed in the blast, which is being treated as suspicious.

Neighbour Andrew Partington, 27, was left with life-threatening burns after three terrace homes, including his own and Jamie's, were reduced to rubble.

Mr Heywood confirmed that investigators are treating Jamie's death as suspicious and said they were aware of rumours that a domestic incident took place in the area of the blast on the previous evening.

According to neighbours, Mr Partington, a qualified joiner who had recently been made redundant, argued with his partner, mother-of-six Tanya Williamson, the night before the explosion, which investigators believe might have been caused by gas.

Mr Heywood said of Jamie's parents: "We've no idea what Jamie's family are going through."

He also sympathised with the many people left homeless by the explosion.

"Our thoughts go out to those families that have been displaced."

And he praised the way people and local businesses had come forward to help those hit by the disaster.

"The community support has been absolutely fantastic," he said.

Scores of firefighters, police and paramedics were scrambled to Buckley Street at around 11.15am yesterday following the booming explosion which rocked the immediate area and sparked an evacuation of local residents.

The blast left the area looking like a war zone, with emergency workers rushing to the scene and scouring the damaged properties for survivors.

The most badly hit houses were numbers 9 and 11, with search teams discovering the dead body of Jamie inside number 11, where he lived with parents Kenny and Michelle.

Mr Partington, who is not related to the toddler, was airlifted to hospital suffering from severe burns. He remains in serious but stable condition, police said.