The people of Haverhill have banded together to provide help after a fire destroyed two houses and claimed one life.
The victim has been identified as Del Watson, 49, a retired detective.
Del spent 26 years as a detective with the Metropolitan Police. During his time, Del won many special commendations for his service and participated actively in high-profile initiatives, including Operation Trident, which targeted gun crime in London.
Del started working in the police service as a constable in 1987. He quickly excelled and began training as a detective.
Del’s expertise saw him contribute to a wide range of police work. In 1999, he worked alongside the mortuary identification team, helping families identify loved ones after the Paddington rail disaster. He also assisted on the Jill Dando case while working in the murder investigation team.
Del moved to Haverhill in 2005. He quickly became a much loved part of the community, leading campaigns to improve road safety in is area. Del walked with a stick having been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.
Emergency services were alerted to a fire at a house in Bellings Road at 2.30am on Thursday, March 19.
Upon arrival, they found the fire had spread to an adjoining terraced property causing extensive damage to the second floor of each house.
Nobody else was hurt in the incident and it is understood that Mr Watson had been on his own in the house at the time.
Neighbour, Mandy South, said: “I woke up with the noise. The whole street looked like it was covered with thick fog.”
Lewis Stipic, 19, was one of a group of neighbours who attempted to force their way into the house to rescue Mr Watson.
“We heard some banging and some shouting and screaming,” said Mr Stipic. “I had a look and there was smoke coming from the roof of the house.
“I called 999 and then ran up the road to see what was going on.
“I went in there with another guy, I don’t know who he was. We got to the second floor and the whole place was smoked out.
“I couldn’t go any further. The smoke was burning my eyes. I shouted up a few times, but no one answered.
“I wish I could have done more, but I did everything I could.”
Area Commander of Suffolk fire and rescue, Ian Bowell, said: “When the fire services arrived, the fire was already fully developed.
“Neighbours had told crews there was a person inside, on the top floor of the building.
“A group of neighbours had attempted to force their way in to rescue the person, but were pushed back by the smoke and heat. Crews entered the building and started to fight the fire and carry out searches.
“Sadly, they found a casualty on the second floor.
“Our thoughts are with the family. I think our crews did an excellent job. I’d also like to praise the efforts of the neighbours and people who tried to help the gentleman. It must have been very traumatic.”
The house next door, which was occupied by Karrie Scarbrow, her husband Adam, and seven-year-old son, Harrison, was also devastated by the fire.
“He was a lovely man,” said Karrie. “He always said hello. He was always chatting and would go out of his way to speak to Harrison. Harrison would run outside to see him. Del used to call him David Beckham.
“It’s absolutely devastating. I can’t believe we’ll never see him again. I feel so bad for his family.”
A community fund-raising group has been set up to help those affected by the fire get back on their feet.
Residents quickly got behind the group, pledging money, as well as support to the families. At the time of going to print, the campaign had raised more than £7,000. It is understood the funds will be divided between the two families.
Matt Pawley, who started the fund, said: “I’d really like to try and help them out in this awful time by raising anything I can to try and make life a little easier for them.”
Karrie Scarbrow said: “I wish I could go around and say thank you to everyone personally.
“I’ve had people I don’t know come up and hug me.
“We’re all so grateful and have been completely overwhelmed by people’s support.
“I’m not a religious person, but I walked past a church and felt so strongly that I wanted to go in there.
“I don’t know a lot of the people who donated but, if I did, I’d have to buy up the whole of the thank-you card section at Tescos.
“We all just want to say thank you to the people of Haverhill.
“The community has been amazing. I can’t really speak for Del’s family, but I know they’ll be so grateful too for what people have done.”
People can donate to help the Scarbrow and Watson families at http://www.gofundme.com/paeatw