Anger at gas firm SGN after death of 4-year-old girl in south London house explosion

The scene on Galpin's Road, Thornton Heath, south London Credit: PA

Residents surrounding the home where a four-year-old girl died in a gas explosion in south London have hit out at local gas provider SGN.

At least 18 calls were made to gas firm SGN about the smell of gas in the days and weeks leading up to the explosion, residents said at a community meeting on Thursday evening.

They said the calls were made by residents of Galpin’s Road, where four-year-old Sahara Salman was killed by the blast shortly after 7am on Monday.

Two other people who were injured in the explosion remain in hospital.

The home where four-year-old Sahara Salman was killed Credit: PA

SGN's executive operations director Martin Holloway faced around 100 residents at the meeting at a community centre in South Lodge Avenue, Mitcham.

"We send our sincere condolences to her family and the other residents who’ve been injured and affected are absolutely in our thoughts," Mr Holloway said. "We really understand the impact that this has had on the local community and we’ve been here on the ground this week working with Merton Council to provide support and assistance.

"I’d also like to assure you that we’re all working very closely with the investigators, with the police and Health and Safety Executive to understand exactly what led to the explosion on Monday," he continued.

"While I appreciate it is frustrating given the ongoing police investigation, I’m unable to talk about what happened in the run-up to the explosion. I know that’s difficult because people want answers about what’s happening."

Residents began shouting at Mr Holloway, who had to stop speaking.

The scene in Galpin’s Road in Thornton Heath on Friday morning Credit: Kirsty O’Connor/PA

Two residents walked out of the meeting while shouting at the company representative, with one describing the investigation as a "whitewash".

One resident said the company had "blood on their hands", while another demanded answers, as "houses don’t just blow up".

Thursday evening’s meeting marked the first time that a representative from SGN had come to speak to residents.

Mr Holloway appeared alongside local MP Siobhain McDonagh, leader of Merton Council Ross Garrod, and Inspector Barrie Capper from the Metropolitan Police.

One man who lived on Galpin’s Road told Mr Holloway: “A little girl lost her life because of you lot taking your time, and how many people have been telling you that there’s been a problem.”

Mr Holloway confirmed that “the entire history, both electronic and paper” of all the work carried out by SGN on Galpin’s Road would be available to the police for their investigation.

He added that the company would also make a “voluntary goodwill contribution” to the local council following the blast.

A woman lays flowers near Galpin’s Road in Thornton Heath Credit: Dominic Lipinski/PA

Galpin's Road residents who were forced to evacuate their homes on Monday, were told by SGN that those within the outer cordon of the street could return to their homes on Friday, subject to a sign-off from the Health and Safety Executive.

AJ Sowe, who lived six doors down from the explosion and had his patio doors blown out by the blast, said he is unhappy with the response from SGN.

He was evacuated on Tuesday after the cordon was extended, amid fears over safety and the possibility of a second blast.

"I expected to come here for specific answers to what has happened and what will happen in the future," he said.

“And what I have been given is the lack of confidence, which I already had in SGN, that they allowed 18 complaints to be unheard, then they allowed the workforce to go out over a three-and-a-half-week period, without resolving this issue, for then an explosion to happen and a child to die.”

He expressed anger that gas workers were “having a little giggle” and “sharing ice lollies” at the site on Tuesday, while he and several other residents were waiting outside the cordon for updates on the situation.

Soft toys are seen in an exposed room of the property in Galpin's Road in Thornton Heath Credit: PA

Keri, who wished to be known only by her first name, stood up to tell the panel that she had been given just £40 to feed her family of seven while they stayed in a hotel following their evacuation.

She shouted: “I called the gas company myself; I called them and you know what the lady said to me? ‘Oh, we’re aware of it honey, just bear with us.’

“I came up at 5.30 that morning, I smelt gas, I smelt burning oil. And I got into a taxi and god forbid the explosion happened and took me with that taxi.”

She added: “I’m wearing other people’s clothes because of this, and you’re going to sit here and say, ‘oh, we’ll come to you, we’ll do this, we’ll do that’.

“What’s going to happen to me and my family come Tuesday?”

The meeting began with a minute’s silence for Sahara, and Ms McDonagh shared a message to the residents from Sahara’s mother, who was not present at Thursday’s meeting, saying that she was “thinking of you, and regards you as family”.

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