RESIDENTS forced to evacuate their homes following a fatal explosion which killed a four-year-old girl have told their local gas provider: "You have blood on your hands."
Sahara Salman died just a month before her fifth birthday in the blast in Thornton Heath, south London, on Monday morning.
At a community meeting in Mitcham last night, neighbours said at least 18 calls were made to Southern Gas Networks (SGN) about the smell of gas in Galpin's Road in the days and weeks leading up to the explosion.
Martin Holloway, executive operations director for SGN, told some 100 people that the firm was "shocked and saddened" about the youngster's death.
He said: "Whilst 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."
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Residents began shouting at Mr Holloway, who had to stop speaking.
Two residents walked out of the meeting while shouting at the company representative, with one describing the investigation as a "whitewash".
One 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 someone from SGN had come to speak to those caught up in the blast.
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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 the street 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.
Residents were told by SGN that the road "would be safe from a gas perspective tomorrow", and that those within the outer cordon will start being able to return to their homes from Friday, subject to a sign-off from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).
AJ Sowe, who lived six doors down from the explosion and had his patio doors blown out by the blast, said he was dissatisfied with the response from the gas network.
He had been evacuated on Tuesday after the cordon was extended amid fears over safety and the possibility of a second blast.
Houses don't just blow up.
He said: "I expected to come here for specific answers to what has happened and what will happen in the future.
"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.
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 from Sahara's mother, Sana Ahmad, who was not present at Thursday's meeting, saying that she was "thinking of you, and regards you as family".
She previously accused SGN of neglecting locals' concerns.
The NHS receptionist told the Evening Standard she reported the smell of gas to the utility firm 10 days before the explosion, but her worries were dismissed and a follow-up inspection did not happen.
Her neighbour, Delroy Simms, agreed that they had been "fobbed off", adding: "I already knew what it was because that gas was smelling all week, really strong, it was giving me a headache.
"My neighbour was calling them [gas engineers] all week."
The blast razed the family's terraced home to the ground at around 7am on August 8.
Sahara was killed and three others were seriously injured, with an 11-year-old boy and a 54-year-old woman still in hospital on Thursday.
More than 100 people were evacuated from the area, which has now been confirmed by Merton Council as being caused by a gas explosion.
An SGN spokesperson said: "We are shocked and saddened by this tragic loss of life and our deepest sympathies are with the family and all those who have been affected.
"Our engineers are assisting the emergency services with the investigation to establish the cause of the explosion.
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"We are also on site, liaising with Merton Council, providing support and assistance.
"Given the ongoing police investigation, we are unable to comment any further at this stage."
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