Tragic end to bid for a better house

Dave Grace
Dave Grace
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A DEVOTED dad who died in a house fire may have been making a desperate bid to get his family a better council home, the Citizen can reveal.

For fire and police officers are investigating the theory that 38-year-old refuse collector Dave Grace doused his house in petrol to fake an arson attack.

He and his wife Sarah, who gave birth to their second son just 10 weeks ago, had been trying in vain for 12 months to get a council transfer to a different area.

The theory is that Dave’s plan tragically backfired when he was unable to escape in time from the three bedroom terrace on Fullers Slade, an estate once nicknamed Tinderbox Alley because of the wooden-framed houses.

While Sarah, baby Sam and five-year-old Daniel slept unaware at a friend’s house several miles away, Dave’s body was carried out of their Shearmans home by firefighters in the early hours of Friday morning.

Friends, already convinced the kind-hearted dad made the ultimate sacrifice for his family, have this week hailed him a misguided hero.

And, in an exclusive interview with the Citizen, former council worker Sarah has told how if Dave had this plan he kept it secret even from her.

“The first I knew was when neighbours phoned saying my house was on fire. All I could think was ‘my husband’s in there… my husband’s in there.

“Earlier that evening we’d taken the children to the park.. then Dave went back to Shearmans to sleep because he had an early shift on Fullers Slade the next morning.

“I don’t know what was going through his mind but if he caused this fire to get us re-housed then I think he was a very brave man.

“But I also think it was stupid. He lost his life and we lost a fantastic husband and brilliant father – a father our baby will never know.”

The family had neither house contents insurance nor life insurance. “Everything we owned is ruined,” said Sarah, who is 37.

She is racked with guilt that such a DIY arson plan may have been prompted by her desperation to move due to a fall out with some of the other residents.

“Hardly anybody on the street spoke to me any more. We’d applied for a council transfer but nothing happened. On the day of the fire I went to stay with friends because I was so depressed.

“Now I keep thinking that if I hadn’t kept wingeing, Dave might still be alive.”

Police investigating the fire now believe no third party was involved.

Said one neighbour:  “Dave was a brilliant man and if he did this for his family he was a hero. It is just sad he felt this was the only way he could get re-housed.”

Sadly Dave’s alleged and misguided efforts appear to have been in vain, for his widow and children are still no nearer getting a new home.

Said Sarah: “The council say I might have to return to the Shearmans house when it’s repaired. The alternative is a homeless hostel in Bedford .

“Either option is terrible.”