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In the early hours of Wednesday, 15 December, a major fire broke out in Rowe Court, Reading, resulting in the death of one person. Two people have been reported as missing.
On Friday (17/12), as part of a Thames Valley Police investigation, a man was charged with murder and arson with intent to endanger life. He has been remanded in custody and appeared at Reading Crown Court yesterday (21/12).
Thames Valley Police, Reading Borough Council and Royal Berkshire Fire and Rescue Service continue to work together to investigate the fire, make the building safe and support those affected and the wider community.
An extensive assessment by specialist structural engineers confirmed that there is significant structural damage to the building with a high risk of walls collapsing. Therefore, structural scaffolding is now being put up around the building to make it as safe as possible. This work is expected to take several weeks.
Once the building has been made safe, emergency services will resume their work with priority being given to confirm whether those who have been reported missing are in the building and if so, recover them respectfully and with dignity.
Officers will continue to protect the scene throughout this period.
The next of kin of those reported missing continue to be supported by specialist officers from Thames Valley Police.
Reading Borough Council continue to support the local community and their contact centre is available 24/7 to provide support on 0118 937 3787.
Generous donations of support have come in from across the Reading community for residents displaced by the fire.
At this time financial donations - rather than physical donations - have been identified as the best means by which to support the residents affected. People can make a financial donation online at a dedicated webpage set up for this appeal at https://www.reading.gov.uk/rowecourt.
The Council will ensure the donations reach affected residents at the appropriate time.
The Council is also aware of other organisations across Reading who are fundraising or being given donations. The Council will work with those groups to ensure donations reach those affected.
Jason Brock, leader of Reading Borough Council said: “The local community - indeed Reading as a whole - remains in shock at this horrific fire, which somehow feels even more distressing coming as it did just a few days before Christmas.
“This is a corner of town just off the busy Oxford Road and is a place where the sense of community is strong. I have little doubt that will shine through, as it already is, in the difficult days, weeks and months to come. Everybody’s thoughts in Reading remain with those who have been affected the most, and with their families.
“Reading has again responded with warmth and generosity in the face of adversity, with offers of help from within the community affected and across the town. I thank everybody for their generosity and their support for our emergency service colleagues. I also remind everyone that they can make financial donations to those affected at https://www.reading.gov.uk/rowecourt. The Council will ensure the donations reach the displaced residents at the appropriate time.”
Superintendent Steve Raffield Thames Valley Police local area commander for Reading said: “This has been an extremely distressing time for so many people, and our thoughts remain firmly with all those affected by this horrific incident, especially the families, friends and loved ones of those reported missing.
“Officers from our Major Crime Unit are carrying out an extensive investigation into this offence, which tragically has resulted in the death of one unidentified person, with two people reported as missing.
“As part of this investigation, a man has now been charged. He is Hakeem Kigundu, aged 31, formerly of Rowe Court, Reading. He has been charged with one count of murder and one count of arson with intent to endanger life.
“Our officers will be in the area while our investigation continues, with neighbourhood teams on patrol and available to answer any questions or concerns wherever they can.”
Paul Illman, Area Manager at Royal Berkshire Fire and Rescue Service said: “Our thoughts remain with all those affected by this tragic incident.
“Specialist teams have been assessing the structural damage to the building and their judgment is that we will be unable to safely enter without risking the safety of staff.
“A number of options have been explored to make the building structurally sound in a timely manner. Following an extensive assessment, the building has been confirmed as unsafe at this time, with a high risk of the walls collapsing due to fire damage. Structural scaffolding is being put in place to make the building safe and this is likely to take several weeks.
“On this basis, fire crews will be scaling back the resources on the scene at this time to enable work to take place to secure the structure. As soon as it is possible we will work closely with specialist teams from Buckinghamshire Fire and Rescue Service’s Urban Search and Rescue Team and South Central Ambulance Service to resume the recovery efforts.
“I understand this will be a difficult time for all those affected by this incident and I would like to reassure you that we are working hard with partners to resolve this as quickly as possible.”