Murder probe launched after fire rips through house in suspected arson attack

A murder investigation has been launched after a woman died following a suspected arson attack on a townhouse in south London.

Residents in Centurion Square, Woolwich, were woken by a loud bang just after 1am on Thursday before seeing flames take hold.

The victim, believed to be in her late forties, was found dead inside the three-storey property, while a man was said to have jumped from his second-floor window.

A man in his sixties and a woman in her fifties were taken to hospital from the house but their conditions are not believed to be life-changing or life-threatening.

The fire is being treated as suspicious and detectives from the Metropolitan Police's homicide and major crime command have launched the 100th investigation into a homicide – a case of murder or manslaughter – in the capital this year.

Police were at the scene all day and sealed-off the crime scene (Yui Mok/PA)
Police were at the scene all day and sealed-off the crime scene (Yui Mok/PA)

The police said detectives are keen to hear from anyone in the area who heard or saw anything suspicious before or after the fire started, and added: "At this early stage any speculation about anyone targeted or any possible motive for the attack is unhelpful."

The victim's next-of-kin have been informed, and a post-mortem examination will be scheduled in due course.

Dozens of police, including uniformed officers and forensics teams in full protective body suits, were at the scene on Thursday as dogs searched the wider area for accelerants.

They were joined by a group of people who said they were related to the three, one of whom sobbed as she caught sight of the charred house beyond a wide cordon.

Its windows were open and a diagonal dark scorch mark could be seen stretching from the first to the second floor, while a ground-floor window was smashed.

A neighbour, who did not want to be named, said she heard a loud bang which she thought might have been some sort of gas explosion.

Woolwich fire
Woolwich fire

She said: "She was a lovely lady.

"Yesterday I heard the boom so when I came out I just saw the flame and people were screaming. I was just too shocked, I didn't know what happened.

"When I came there the old man was jumping from the top.

"He was just on the floor, it was horrible, I didn't want to watch.

"You see stuff like this online but life like this – I knew him, he's an old man, a very old man."

Children back from school and other neighbours looked on as a team of officers conducted a sweep inside the cordon.

Officers walked slowly in groups as they searched the road and grass verges surrounding the adjoining blocks.

They also looked under and around several cars parked inside the sealed-off area.

A number of emergency services vehicles including ambulances, forensics vans and fire engines were at the scene.

Residents were asked to sign in and out as they entered or left the secure area.