POLICE launched a triple death inquiry tonight after the bodies of three school children were found in a first floor flat in Edinburgh.
Two boys and a girl – whose names hadn’t been released – were found at the scene at around 3pm today (WED) in the Slateford area of the city.
Police confirmed the deaths were being treated as suspicious.
Forensic teams arrived at the scene shortly before 6pm last night to determine the exact cause of their deaths.
Officers were waiting to question a woman – thought to be their mother – in hospital.
A force spokesman said: “A criminal investigation is currently underway and nothing more can be said at this time into the circumstances which led to their deaths.”
The woman – described by one neighbour as being white with blonde hair – survived after jumping from a second floor balcony.
Ambulance crews were initially told there had been a gas leak, but police ruled this out stating there had only been a “small fire” within.
Police said it was still too early to confirm the exact details of how the blaze started but fire investigators were still at the scene last night.
Chief inspector Kevin Greig of Lothian and Borders Police said “Police were called at 3pm to an incident at Slateford Road.
“I can confirm that as a result of an explosion there were three fatalities, two boys and a girl of primary school age.
“A woman was also taken by ambulance for treatment.”
One neighbour watched as the woman plunged off the balcony.
The 21-year-old didn’t want to give his name but described the harrowing scenes.
He said: “I was sitting in my living room when, I heard big screaming.
“It was really bad screaming – the sort of screaming you would only do if a death or something very very bad had happened.
“I live on the left of them – we share a wall with them.
“I went outside and I saw her on the first floor balcony.
“I went in to the house and there was a smell of gas. A handyman who was with me went upstairs and I went outside.
“When the handyman came back out he was crying. I don’t know what he saw – I don’t want to know.
“I came back out and she was standing on the second floor balcony.
“She was standing on the third floor balcony. She was holding her arms, like she was already injured.
“She was crying and screaming.
“There was about five of us standing saying to ‘don’t do it, don’t jump’.
“Then she jumped off. My neighbour tried to catch her and she kind of landed on his arms. I think he’s a bit bruised but okay.
“She was lying on the floor and I left the scene, it was just too much.
“I don’t think she was jumping to save herself. If she was she would have jumped from the first floor balcony.”
He said he had never seen the woman before.
He added: “She was white and looked like she was in her 40s.”
Student Omar Barifah, 20, who lives a few doors along added: “I had just got home from Heriot-Watt univertsity when I heard a woman screaming.
“The noise woke my flatmate and we went outside. We could see the smoke coming out of the building.
“We saw the woman lying on the ground with a sheet over her and an ambulance came and took her away.”
Student Moe Harbi, 22, said: “My brother Rabbah went out on the balcony and he saw the woman on the balcony above, she was shouting.
“He went outside and he saw the woman on the floor, she had jumped from the balcony.”
“Our flat is at 168 Slateford Road, next door to the flat at 166 where the explosion happened.
“We have lived at the flat for two years, but I had not seen the woman before.”
Zane Harvey, 28, lives in the same block of flats as the explosion and saw the woman lying on the ground.
The Asda worker said: “I was walking home from work and as I turned into our cul-de-sac I saw this woman lying on the road.
“She was white with blonde hair and wearing beige clothes but I’m not sure what age she is.
“She was getting help from four people including the ground keeper.
“I didn’t go over because there was nothing to suggest she hadn’t just fallen over and at that point there was no smoke.
“But once I was inside my flat I looked back out and realised there was a window open at the balcony and smoke coming out.
“That was when I knew something bigger had happened and suddenly everyone seemed very anxious.
“I realised she must have jumped out the balcony straight onto the road below.
“Within minutes seven ambulance vehicles came and I lost count of the police cars.
“There was quite a crowd of people building up so they pushed everyone back and put the woman onto a stretcher with a blanket on her.
“She got lifted into the back of the ambulance and taken away.
“Then two paramedics put hardhats on and went into the flat but I didn’t see them coming out.
“I’ve only lived here two months so I don’t know them but I’m pretty sure it’s a family living there.””
He said that the three storey townhouses are all identical, with gas and boiler controls in the ground-floor garage.
He added: “If there’s been an explosion, that’s where it’s happened and she’s jumped out the floor above but there’s no visible damage apart from the smoke.
“Now there are five forensics and a CID man in a suit looking at the road but there’s no damage I can see.
“The balcony door is open.”
Omar Barifah, 20, lives three doors down from the family in the new-build block.
Standing in his slippers in the street, he described how the building shook as the explosion took place.
The chemical engineering student said: “I heard the explosion – it was pretty loud.
“I had just got home from university when I heard a bang like a gunshot.
“I could hear a woman screaming.
“The noise woke my flatmate and we went outside and could see the smoke coming out of the building.”
“We went out of our home and could see lots of smoke coming out of the building.
“There was a little bit of debris as well. Just dust mixed up in the smoke.
“I had no idea what was happening. It was really frightening.
“I saw the ambulance take a woman out of the flat and speed down the street.
“She was lying on a stretcher and they put her in the ambulance before going away to the hospital.
“The police came and told us to come out so we came here.
“They told us it wasn’t safe so I brought my brother and we came down here.
“We’ve been waiting here for about two hours and they’ve not said anything about when we can get back in again.
“I don’t know when we will get back in.”
Omar went on to say that he didn’t know the family, and hadn’t really seen them before.
He added: “I don’t think I’ve ever seen them. I’ve been here for around a year but I couldn’t tell you who lived in that house.”
On the other side of the canal bridge from the complex is Tallulah hairdressers which was still open for business last night.
Owner Ann Fairburn said that they hadn’t realised anything had happened until the emergency services arrived.
The 42-year-old said: “We get a lot of sirens coming along this road so I didn’t think anything of it at first.
“Then I realised there were a lot more than usual and we looked out and saw about 10 police cars and ambulance and fire engines.
“I never heard anything at all which is really strange because it’s just next door really.
“It can’t have been that big an explosion.
“The CID came in and asked us if we had any CCTV but we don’t. They didn’t say anything else or ask any other questions.
“It’s a terrible shame what happened to those kids. Their mother must be devastated.”
Barbara Watson, 62, lives next to the hairdressers and works in Asda on the other side of the incident from her house.
She was worried about some of her colleagues who had only just moved into the new build block.
She said: “There’s a few folk who work in Asda who live in that building.
“Zane Harvey is just a young lad who has only just moved in.
“I called Asda and they said he had left work already when it happened. I know that all the other residents are okay but it doesn’t stop me from being a little worried about him.
“I think some of them are still in their houses and aren’t being allowed out.
“But for three young lives to be taken like that is just terrible. You just don’t think about things like that.”
The tragedy happened shortly at a new build development off Slateford Road called Canal Point, built by Edinburgh firm Kirkton Developments.
Ambulance HQ in South Queensferry took a call at 2.56pm alerting them to a woman jumping from the building, on the site of the old Marco’s Leisure Centre, followed by reports of the explosion during the same call.
An ambulance crew – already heading to a 999 call – was immediately diverted to the scene and arrived within four minutes.
They were followed by a fleet of other ambulances including a special response team as a major incident was declared.
Three fire-engines including a turntable ladder arrives from nearby Sighthill fire station.
A two man crew wearing breathing apparatus was deployed to put out the blaze which had taken hold in the three storey townhouse.
But the children were found to be dead.
Gas supplies were sealed off to the area and neighbours evacuated to a muster point nearby.
Police forensic teams arrived at 5.50pm to begin the grim task of probing how the tragedy happened.
A spokesperson from the Scottish Ambulance Service control room team confirmed the drama unfolded while a call was made to them.
He said: “We got a 999 call from a member of the public on a mobile phone at 2.56pm.
“They reported that a female had fallen two storeys from a flat in Slateford Road.
“They then reported a gas explosion, during the same call.
“We sent a rapid response unit and two ambulances, one of which was diverted from another 999 call nearby, and arrived at the scene at 3pm.
“One female was taken to Edinburgh Royal Infirmary and I can confirm there are three fatalities.
“I cannot confirm their sexes or ages at this point as we are still speaking to the crews involved.
“We also sent our Special Operations Response Team, who are specially trained and deployed to major incidents to use their extended skills.
“One of two of our chief officers in charge of the scene was stood down at 5.30pm.””
Last night Lothian & Borders Police confirmed the tragic deaths of the children and announced an investigation was underway.
A spokesman said: “Lothian and Borders Police can confirm there have been three fatalities in a suspected gas explosion in Edinburgh today.
“Police can confirm three primary school children – two boys and a girl – have died in the incident.
“In addition, an adult woman was taken by ambulance to Edinburgh Royal Infirmary.
“Emergency services were called to an address in the city’s Slateford Road around 3pm following the reports of a suspected gas explosion and a fire.
“A fire in the first floor of the three storey modern town house was extinguished by Lothian and Borders Fire and Rescue Service and the property made safe.
“Gas supply at the scene was isolated a precaution. Other properties in the vicinity have been unaffected by the incident.
“The investigation into the cause of this tragedy is in its early stages.”
Lothian and Borders and Rescue Services were assisting police with their inquiries but stood down at around 5.40pm.
Despite the explosion they said the building was still structurally sound.
A spokeswoman said: “We were called to a report of a possible gas explosion in Slateford Road, Edinburgh, shortly before 3pm.
“Two fire appliances and a turntable ladder attended at the address, a three storey modern townhouse.
“Two firefighters wearing breathing apparatus extinguished a small fire on the first floor of the building.
“There were reported casualties at the address but further details have yet to be confirmed by police.
“Gas at the property was isolated as a precaution and fire crews remain at the scene with the Fire Investigation Unit – they are currently liaising with the police.
“Fire crews have said there is no significant structural damage to the building and confirmed that the fire was extinguished very quickly.”
Large swathes of police tape were put up around the scene while Slateford Road was sealed off between an aqueduct near Pentland Land Rover and a rail bridge near Slateford Train Station causing widespread traffic chaos.
A Scotland Gas Networks spokesman said: “Our engineers have been called to the scene.”
One local businessman said: “The first we knew was when we noticed the police at around 3.15pm. There were ambulances, the fire brigade, lots of people rushing about.
“It’s in the new flats, where the old Marco’s snooker and squash club used to be. They are relatively new houses up the back there.
“The police came round to ask if any of us saw anything but we didn’t. All we know is that there was an explosion.
“We’re quite close by but we didn’t hear anything at all, we were quite surprised.
“The road has been sealed off at both ends under the viaduct and at the rail bridge. There’s nothing being allowed in at all.”
A spokesperson for the neighbouring Asda store said they were trading as normal despite the chaos while a Scotrail spokesperson confirmed the blast has not affected train services.
PHOTOGRAPHY BY: Katielee Arrowsmith and Lorenzo Dalberto