Tributes to father and children who died in fire in Wales

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  • David Cuthbertson, 68, was killed in blaze in Llangammarch Wells, Powys, Wales
  • Three children, aged 13, 12 & 10, were able to escape fire in early hours yesterday
  • Shocked neighbours have described Mr Cuthbertson as an ‘exceptional father’
  • JustGiving page set up for the family has raised £5,000 in less than 24 hours

Mark Duell

and
Anthony Joseph

and
Alex Matthews For Mailonline

A brave father lowered three children from a window of their burning farmhouse before he and five younger children perished in the blaze.

Locals said David Cuthbertson, 68, managed to save his eldest children but was left trapped in the upstairs of the house with his five youngest.

He was overcome by the heat and smoke and died in the inferno at the remote home in Llangammarch Wells, Powys, Wales.

Police confirmed they found the bodies of a father and five children aged between four and 11 in the debris of the burned out building.

A major investigation has been launched into the cause but classmates of the Cuthbertson children say one of the young boys loved to play with matches.

However, this has not been confirmed by police and detectives have not indicated the fire was caused in this way.

A teddy bear and a note saying 'I will miss my best friend' which were left at the scene today

A teddy bear and a note saying 'I will miss my best friend' which were left at the scene today

A teddy bear and a note saying ‘I will miss my best friend’ which were left at the scene today

An aerial view shows the devastation following the blaze in Llangammarch Wells, Powys

An aerial view shows the devastation following the blaze in Llangammarch Wells, Powys

An aerial view shows the devastation following the blaze in Llangammarch Wells, Powys

Shocked locals said Mr Cuthbertson would have done ‘everything in his power’ to get his children out alive when he discovered the house ablaze in the early hours of the morning.

One villager said: ‘We’ve heard he managed to get three out by dropping them from a window.

‘He loved those kids so much he would have been desperate to get them out.

‘But it sounds as if he died in the heat and smoke before he could save the little ones.’

‘He was a marvellous father to them all, he would do everything in his power.’

Heartbreaking tributes were made today to the five children aged between four and 11 who died in the devastating fire.

One girl, aged around six or seven, held her mother’s hand at the scene in the Welsh countryside as she laid a handwritten letter with a drawing of a love heart and a kiss.

The note was placed on the wall of the driveway leading up to the farmhouse. The letter said: ‘I miss you all. I knew you all in school. I will miss my best friend.’

Mr Cuthbertson is believed to have lived with seven children at the property, with just three, aged 13, 12, and ten, managing to escape unharmed. 

They are still in hospital where specially trained police officers are supporting them and trying to get their accounts of what happened.

The rear of the farmhouse in Llangammarch Wells, Powys, which is still smouldering today

The rear of the farmhouse in Llangammarch Wells, Powys, which is still smouldering today

The rear of the farmhouse in Llangammarch Wells, Powys, which is still smouldering today

The farmhouse has been completely gutted by the fire which took hold of it early yesterday

The farmhouse has been completely gutted by the fire which took hold of it early yesterday

The farmhouse has been completely gutted by the fire which took hold of it early yesterday

Firefighters are still at the property today following the blaze in the early hours of yesterday

Firefighters are still at the property today following the blaze in the early hours of yesterday

Firefighters are still at the property today following the blaze in the early hours of yesterday

A woman arrives at the scene with floral tributes following the devastating farmhouse fire

A woman arrives at the scene with floral tributes following the devastating farmhouse fire

A woman arrives at the scene with floral tributes following the devastating farmhouse fire

It is understood that he could have up to 15 children from three different marriages – and that he had wanted custody to keep his family together.

Mr Cuthbertson lived with his younger children after splitting from their foreign-born mother – named as Seema – who left him, before having a stroke several years later.

Five of his eldest live nearby and are coming to terms with losing their father and five of their half brothers and sisters.

Seema, who is believed to have had two other children from further relationships, was being comforted today at her home in the nearby village of Builth Wells. 

After Seema had become ill, Mr Cuthbertson had wanted his and her children to move in with him so they could continue as a family.

They lived at Pointyn Farm just outside the village of Llangammarch Wells in a rented barn that Mr Cuthbertson himself had converted. 

Superintendent Jon Cummins, of Dyfed-Powys Police, said: ‘Based on current information available to us, we are working on the hypothesis that one adult male and five children, aged between four and 11 years old, are unaccounted for and believed to be deceased within the house. 

‘Due to the severity of damage at the scene we are unable at this stage to identify any of the deceased.’

Dramatic aerial photographs have today conveyed the true devastation of the fire, with the farmhouse’s roof caved in and its interior completely gutted.

Mr Cuthbertson had been looking after the children for three years when the fire broke out. He also had children from previous marriages to a Wendy and Judith.

A local villager, who got to know Mr Cuthbertson after he helped renovate their home, said: ‘His children were his life. He used to drop by for a coffee.

Flowers are left at the scene of the fire which is believed to have claimed the lives of six people

Flowers are left at the scene of the fire which is believed to have claimed the lives of six people

Flowers are left at the scene of the fire which is believed to have claimed the lives of six people

It is still unclear how many people lost their lives in the tragedy in the early hours of yesterday

It is still unclear how many people lost their lives in the tragedy in the early hours of yesterday

It is still unclear how many people lost their lives in the tragedy in the early hours of yesterday

The home was reduced to a smouldering shell in just minutes, its roof completely removed

The home was reduced to a smouldering shell in just minutes, its roof completely removed

The home was reduced to a smouldering shell in just minutes, its roof completely removed

Police said the blaze yesterday was so severe they are not yet sure how many people died

Police said the blaze yesterday was so severe they are not yet sure how many people died

Police said the blaze yesterday was so severe they are not yet sure how many people died

Three children are believed to have escaped the fire, while another five are said to have died

Three children are believed to have escaped the fire, while another five are said to have died

Three children are believed to have escaped the fire, while another five are said to have died

‘It was incredibly tough for him and he could be really low at times, especially when for a while it looked like he might not win. Seema had her stroke and he was desperate to bring them back together. 

‘He would travel around by train to visit all of them. That was how dedicated a father he was. I remember the day he was awarded custody.

‘He was delighted and he could not stop smiling. It was not easy for him to look after all of those children with his bad back and at his age, but he was a brilliant dad.

‘He used to encourage Seema to come and visit them and he would walk her back to the bus once she had seen them. The children were so sweet and well behaved.

‘I remember him bringing them around for trick-or-treat last year. It’s horrible to think of the kids now. They had been through enough tough times already.

‘This is another horrible blow. I can’t imagine how Seema is feeling. She must be devastated. I can’t imagine how she will cope.’ 

Flowers left close to the scene in Llangammarch Wells after six members of the family died

Flowers left close to the scene in Llangammarch Wells after six members of the family died

Flowers left close to the scene in Llangammarch Wells after six members of the family died

Investigators comb through the wreckage of the farmhouse following the huge blaze

Investigators comb through the wreckage of the farmhouse following the huge blaze

Investigators comb through the wreckage of the farmhouse following the huge blaze

The farmhouse (centre left) in Powys burnt down overnight while the family were sleeping

The farmhouse (centre left) in Powys burnt down overnight while the family were sleeping

The farmhouse (centre left) in Powys burnt down overnight while the family were sleeping

Investigators are trying to work out what caused the fire and how it took hold of the property

Investigators are trying to work out what caused the fire and how it took hold of the property

Investigators are trying to work out what caused the fire and how it took hold of the property

Forensic teams have been sifting through the remains of the property in Powys, Wales

Forensic teams have been sifting through the remains of the property in Powys, Wales

The front of the gutted farmhouse

The front of the gutted farmhouse

Forensic teams have been sifting through the remains of the property in Powys, Wales

Specialist police officers at the scene of the fire where a father and five of his children died

Specialist police officers at the scene of the fire where a father and five of his children died

Specialist police officers at the scene of the fire where a father and five of his children died

Michael Collins, the current partner of Mr Cuthbertson’s ex-wife Wendy, today said it was a ‘terrible shock’ when they were woken with news of the fire.

The 76-year-old said: ‘We had a phone call at two o’clock in the morning on Monday from her son, saying he was on his way to Wales.

‘Obviously, it was not very nice to be woken with that sort of news. All we have heard is there’s about six or seven dead and two or three got out. That’s all I know.

‘It must have been the oldest kids, I think, that got out, but none of them were of any real age – only young teens. There were some in there that were only four or five years old.’

Mr Collins, speaking at the couple’s detached bungalow in Waterlooville, Hampshire, added that Mrs Cuthbertson, 68, was considering travelling to Wales to see her daughter – one of several children she had with Mr Cuthbertson.

Relatives of the family have told of their shock at hearing about the devastating fire

Relatives of the family have told of their shock at hearing about the devastating fire

Relatives of the family have told of their shock at hearing about the devastating fire

It is still unclear how many people lost their lives in the tragedy in rural Llangammarch Wells

It is still unclear how many people lost their lives in the tragedy in rural Llangammarch Wells

It is still unclear how many people lost their lives in the tragedy in rural Llangammarch Wells

Police have spoken to the owners of the property in Wales, who rented it to the family

Police have spoken to the owners of the property in Wales, who rented it to the family

Police have spoken to the owners of the property in Wales, who rented it to the family

Dyfed-Powys Police said five children aged between four and 11 were killed in the fire

Dyfed-Powys Police said five children aged between four and 11 were killed in the fire

Dyfed-Powys Police said five children aged between four and 11 were killed in the fire

The fire was described as 'devastating news in such a close-knit community' by a politician

The fire was described as 'devastating news in such a close-knit community' by a politician

The fire was described as ‘devastating news in such a close-knit community’ by a politician

He said: ‘I knew of David, but when I met Wendy, he was no longer on the scene and hadn’t been for a long time. She is coping alright, but it’s just a terrible shock.’

Meanwhile a JustGiving page set up for the family had raised £5,000 in the 18 hours to 1pm today. One tribute said: ‘Thank you for setting up this fund.

‘We lived in Cwm Deri until July of this year and knew all of the children well, all beautiful inside and out with a devoted daddy – we are heartbroken.’

Another message said: ‘I’m sure any small donation will help them massively.’ A further tribute read: ‘Very sad. Special thoughts are sent to family and friends.’

A local business owner, who asked not to be named, said: ‘Dave was a real family man and really looked after those kids.

‘He had his bright yellow Land Rover filled with them as he took them to school or to the café for Sunday lunch. He had his older children help him out at times too.

‘I think he has about 17 kids in total. Dave has spent his whole life looking after kids. I can’t think of a better dad.’

According to friends, Mr Cuthbertson had won an award for his restoration and building work in Hampshire before he moved to Wales.

However, he had to give up work eight years ago when he was electrocuted on a ladder while working on a farm and badly damaged his back.

A woman looks at tributes to the members of the same family who died in Llangammarch Wells

A woman looks at tributes to the members of the same family who died in Llangammarch Wells

A woman looks at tributes to the members of the same family who died in Llangammarch Wells

Crews of firefighters enter the torched shell of the family home in Llangammarch Wells

Seven members of the same family are feared dead after a huge fire ripped through their farmhouse and burnt it to the ground while they were asleep

Seven members of the same family are feared dead after a huge fire ripped through their farmhouse and burnt it to the ground while they were asleep

Seven members of the same family are feared dead after a huge fire ripped through their farmhouse and burnt it to the ground while they were asleep

He had since dedicated his life to looking after his children. Former clients also took to Facebook to pay their respects.

Colin Ashton said: ‘Very, very sad. I knew David from the early 1990’s when he was the main person to restore our barn in West Sussex. A really nice man and a real family man and an excellent builder. 

Neighbours Ron, 73, and Rosemary Birchall, 68, said Mr Cuthbertson brought up seven children after his wife Judy suffered a stroke and moved out.

The single father – known as ‘Dave’ to villagers – is a former builder who was forced to retire after falling off a ladder at work and injuring his back eight years ago. 

Mr Birchall said: ‘We are close neighbours and Dave would always acknowledge us whether he was in the car or walking. My wife always talked to Dave so she is absolutely devastated.

‘I knew him as a good father and a gentle fella. My wife would say he was an exceptional father. All the other villagers are upset by this because Dave has been in the village for about 15 years.

‘He used to be a builder but suffered an accident up a ladder, fell off and injured his back. We think he was electrocuted and it threw him off the ladder.

The blaze ripped through the home in Llangammarch Wells, Powys, Wales, during the early hours of yesterday morning

The blaze ripped through the home in Llangammarch Wells, Powys, Wales, during the early hours of yesterday morning

The blaze ripped through the home in Llangammarch Wells, Powys, Wales, during the early hours of yesterday morning

A police car is pictured at the scene of the devastation in the Welsh village this morning

A police car is pictured at the scene of the devastation in the Welsh village this morning

A police car is pictured at the scene of the devastation in the Welsh village this morning

‘His wife had a stroke and was incapacitated for a while. She moved away and couldn’t bring up the kids. The kids were well presented and they used to pass us everyday. It really is very sad. Rosemary said it’s the worst day of her life.’

He added: ‘He was a great father who loved his kids and doted on them.’ 

Mrs Birchall said: ‘He was a single father with seven children. They were wonderful.’

Another neighbour, who wished to remain unnamed, said the close-knit community had been rocked by the horrific incident.

He said: ‘I’m in shock, the whole village is in shock. We heard about the fire but didn’t know there were children involved till later on in the afternoon, we were in disbelief.

‘It’s hit my daughter hard because she has young children and it’s such tragic news. It’s devastating. I knew the family as I was friend with David’s ex-wife, Judy.

‘I know they had children together but she has since remarried and now lives in Greece. David had at least three or four wives and made money from barn conversions. The property was falling to bits and he converted it years ago.’ 

Floral tributes have been left at the scene of the devastating fire in Llangammarch Wells

Floral tributes have been left at the scene of the devastating fire in Llangammarch Wells

Floral tributes have been left at the scene of the devastating fire in Llangammarch Wells

Firemen, police and forensic scientists were searching through the gutted remains of the property looking for bodies

Firemen, police and forensic scientists were searching through the gutted remains of the property looking for bodies

Firemen, police and forensic scientists were searching through the gutted remains of the property looking for bodies

Ella Robinson, 65, who lived in a bungalow near the farmhouse in 2015, knew the family well and said the youngest victim could have been six years old.

She said: ‘They were a lovely family and David was a good father. His current wife had moved out of the house some time ago when they split and was no longer living there.

‘She had a stroke but has since recovered. My ex-partner previously owned the house before selling to his brother. We split and moved out of the bungalow in 2015.

‘My ex called me last night to tell me what had happened. It’s terrible news that such young innocent children have lost their lives.’

It is believed that one of the youngsters raised the alarm after fleeing the blaze. 

Speaking a press conference yesterday afternoon, Chief Superintendent Richard Lewis said the devastation caused by the inferno was so severe that bodies could not be identified at the scene.

He said: ‘Just after midnight Dyfed Powys Police were notified by Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service that there was a house fire at a remote property at Llangammarch Wells, Powys.

An aerial view of the farmhouse before the inferno, which burnt the property to the ground

An aerial view of the farmhouse before the inferno, which burnt the property to the ground

An aerial view of the farmhouse before the inferno, which burnt the property to the ground

Flowers left near the scene in Llangammarch Wells after the fire ripped through the farmhouse

Flowers left near the scene in Llangammarch Wells after the fire ripped through the farmhouse

Flowers left near the scene in Llangammarch Wells after the fire ripped through the farmhouse

‘Upon arrival the house was ablaze and three children aged 13, 12 and 10 years were able to escape.  They are being treated in hospital but do not have life threatening injuries. 

‘However, there are a number of people unaccounted for at this time and we can confirm that there are known to be fatalities. 

‘Due to the severity of damage at the scene we are unable at this stage to identify any of the deceased or confirm numbers.’

Police are now speaking to relatives to establish how many adults and children were in the farmhouse when fire broke out.

A villager who didn’t want to be named said: ‘The couple who loved there both had children from previous marriages and relationships.

‘There were older children living in the house but they used to come and go.

‘It must be very difficult for the police to determine who was there at the time.’

It is understood the three surviving children have now been told that several members of their close family were lost in the blaze.

A police car cordons off a road in Llangammarch Wells near the farmhouse in the village

A police car cordons off a road in Llangammarch Wells near the farmhouse in the village

A police car cordons off a road in Llangammarch Wells near the farmhouse in the village

Due to the severity of the damage, police could not confirm how many people had been killed

Due to the severity of the damage, police could not confirm how many people had been killed

Due to the severity of the damage, police could not confirm how many people had been killed

A local county councillor has spoken of the community's shock at the devastating loss of life

A local county councillor has spoken of the community's shock at the devastating loss of life

A local county councillor has spoken of the community’s shock at the devastating loss of life

Officers have spoken to the owners of the property Matthew and Lucretia Callan, who rented it to the family and were at the scene yesterday.

Mrs Callan said: ‘It is very emotive, we have been advised not to say anything.’

The family had rented the £250,000 farmhouse and small plot of land for a number of years.

A neighbour raised the alarm shortly after midnight in the early hours of yesterday

A neighbour raised the alarm shortly after midnight in the early hours of yesterday

A neighbour raised the alarm shortly after midnight in the early hours of yesterday

The property is almost a mile from the nearest main road which caused the emergency services difficulties when they arrived shortly after midnight.  

A neighbour at a nearby caravan holiday park said: ‘I woke up at about 2am to get a glass of water and I could see the place was floodlit by police and emergency services.

‘There were helicopters there a bit later. We’ve heard a number of people died.’

Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service said the blaze was ‘well developed’ when firefighters arrived at the scene.

The Welsh Ambulance Service sent its Hazardous Area Response Team, as well as four crews in emergency ambulances.

The Brecon Mountain Rescue team was also sent to the blaze because it was in such a remote location.

Kirsty Williams, Welsh assembly member for Brecon and Radnorshire, said: ‘This is devastating news in such a close-knit community.

This aerial view shows the house and surrounding farm before the fire devastated the building

This aerial view shows the house and surrounding farm before the fire devastated the building

This aerial view shows the house and surrounding farm before the fire devastated the building

Police confirmed three children aged 13, 12 and 10 were able to escape when the house caught fire in the early hours of the morning

Police confirmed three children aged 13, 12 and 10 were able to escape when the house caught fire in the early hours of the morning

Police confirmed three children aged 13, 12 and 10 were able to escape when the house caught fire in the early hours of the morning

It is believed the family were asleep when the fire started during the school half-term break

It is believed the family were asleep when the fire started during the school half-term break

It is believed the family were asleep when the fire started during the school half-term break

‘I’d like to express my deepest sympathies to those affected and thank the emergency services for their assistance.’ 

Community councillor Jon Hather said: ‘It’s a dreadful shock for this small community and our thoughts go out to the family.’

The Brecon Mountain Rescue team was also sent to the blaze because it was in such a remote location

The Brecon Mountain Rescue team was also sent to the blaze because it was in such a remote location

The Brecon Mountain Rescue team was also sent to the blaze because it was in such a remote location

County Councillor Tim Van-Rees, who represents the area, said: ‘I knew the family, not well, and I knew the father and several of the children.  

‘I have spoken to the owner of the property – he was alerted by one of the children who came to his house in the early hours of the morning. 

 ‘He called the fire service who went to the house straight away but unfortunately not everybody could be saved. The family have lived in the village for some time.

‘I’ve had a full description from the fire commander and they risked life and limb to see whether anything could be done but unfortunately their efforts were not well rewarded.

‘Speaking on behalf of the community our thoughts and prayers will all those affected. The community will come together and do all it can for the surviving children and relations.’ 

Chris Davies MP said: ‘I am absolutely devastated at today’s news that there was an overnight fire in Llangamarch Wells, which has claimed the lives of a father and his young children. 

‘As a father to two young girls, this news has shocked me to the core. My thoughts are with the family and local community at this terrible time. 

Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service said the blaze was 'well developed' when firefighters arrived at the scene

Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service said the blaze was 'well developed' when firefighters arrived at the scene

Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service said the blaze was ‘well developed’ when firefighters arrived at the scene

The Welsh Ambulance Service sent its Hazardous Area Response Team, as well as four crews in emergency ambulances

The Welsh Ambulance Service sent its Hazardous Area Response Team, as well as four crews in emergency ambulances

The Welsh Ambulance Service sent its Hazardous Area Response Team, as well as four crews in emergency ambulances

‘Our local emergency services were on the scene swiftly and have worked hard to put out the fire and identify who has been hurt. I will be keeping in close contact with the emergency services over the next 48 hours.’

Dai Hancock, from the Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service, said: ‘On arrival the attending crews were faced with a very difficult situation and did all they could in the circumstances to resolve this.

‘All of us in the Mid and West Wales Fire and Rescue Service commend them for their efforts in the face of what they were faced with last night.

‘Our deepest sympathies go out to the family and residents of Llangammarch Wells following this tragic incident within their community.

‘We would like to assure you and the residents that we will be present in the vicinity to do all we can to assist them over the coming days.’

And Secretary of State for Wales Alun Cairns said: ‘I am shocked by this incredibly sad news and my heart goes out to the family and friends of those involved in such a terrible incident.

‘I commend the bravery of the emergency services and the specialist teams as they diligently seek to establish the cause of this tragic incident. My office are in touch with Dyfed Powys police and have offered to support where possible.’ 

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