FIREFIGHTERS have left an explosion site in Gibbs Crescent after gathering evidence to establish the cause to the blast which destroyed a block of flats.
Detectives from Thames Valley Police will now take over the scene as forensic officers continue to examine human remains - believed to be of Guido Schuette, 48 - found in the site on Saturday.
Meanwhile, Dawn Wightman, A2Dominion group housing director, has said that they are continuing to support residents affected by the explosion and fire last Tuesday.
She said: "Where it has been safe to do so, we have arranged for residents to move back into their homes.
"Three more households were able to return yesterday.
"There are still 13 households currently staying in alternative accommodation.
"We were able to arrange access yesterday for a number of these residents to collect personal belongings.
"We are still assessing the extent of the damage to the worst affected homes and trying to establish timescales for when residents will be able to return.
"For a small number of residents, it is likely their homes will need to be demolished and they will need to be re-housed."
A post-mortem examination of the human remains found in the rubble of the collapsed block of flats proved inconclusive yesterday.
The force said further tests will be carried out to identify the cause of death.
As of yet the deceased person has not been formally identified.
Det Insp Jim Holmes said the force was still in the early stages of their investigation.
He added support was ongoing to the family of Mr Schuette - the man beleived to be in the rubble.
Det Insp Holmes said: "At this stage Guido remains missing."hich were staying in alternative accommodation.
Thames Valley Police started the search of the rubble in Gibbs Crescent on Saturday and later said it was recovering the remains.
Mr Schuette is understood to have lived at the three-storey building and was unaccounted for after the blast on Valentine's Day.
Ch Supt Andy Boyd said: “Forensic identification procedures will have to take place to identify the deceased person which will take some time due to the nature of the incident.
"Our thoughts remain with everyone who has been affected by this incident.”
- Homes could be demolished due to not being stable
- 48-year old Guido Schuette feared dead in rubble
- Missing man has criminal past
- Police say it is 'too soon' to speculate on the cause of blast
- Officers spent 'significant period of time' at Gibbs Crescent before blast
- Reports gas canisters were seen being taken into flats last weekend
- Traumatised neighbours say they have been let down
Engineers were drafted in in the past few days to make sure unstable buildings next to the collapsed three-storey flats were safe.
On Friday night, housing company A2Dominion said due to the extent of damage caused by Tuesday’s blast, it was likely properties numbered one, two, four, six and eight would have to be demolished.
The company said it would meet with residents on Monday to ‘discuss permanent alternative accommodation’.
Oxfordshire Fire and Rescue Service said some neighbouring buildings were 'very unstable' and would have to be made secure. It said structural engineers were advising before firefighters tried to remove rubble.
This would allow investigators to determine the cause of the explosion, the service added.
Incident commander Mike Adcock said: "The sequence of events has to be to make the buildings safe first before the removal of rubble begins, so as to ensure the safety of personnel.
"Due to the instability of adjoining buildings we have some particular work to do to tackle that issue.
"We are still looking forward to being able to start removing rubble but cannot yet put a timeframe on this.
"Fire and police investigators will be working alongside to determine the cause of the explosion.”
Specialists have been operating a digger to strip away unstable bricks from the neighbouring three-storey block but firefighters said no final decision had been made on the demolition of any surrounding buildings.
The missing man believed to be under the rubble has been named as Guido Schuette.
Police say they believe he was killed in the blast but until his remains have been located, there is a chance the 48-year-old resident of flat 5 in Gibbs Crescent could be alive.
Officers issued a description and picture of him on Thursday but urged the public not to approach him if he is seen and to immediately call 999.
Mr Schuette has a criminal record for assault and has been charged with possessing a knife.
The Oxford Mail revealed police officers spent a ‘significant period of time’ at Gibbs Crescent on Friday last week following a ‘concern for welfare’ call made after a man, believed to be Mr Schuette, had allegedly made threats.
Thames Valley Police said they sought ‘necessary medical support’ during the incident and residents confirmed an ambulance had attended.
Oxford Health NHS Foundation Trust said it was working with the emergency services at Gibbs Crescent to ‘deal with the incident’, but added it could not comment on individual cases.
A spokeswoman added: "We will contribute fully to any investigation into how it came about.
"Any matters related to mental health care will be thoroughly reviewed and those findings shared with the relevant investigating authorities."
Gibbs Crescent resident Ian Francis said he saw an ambulance outside his flat on the Friday between 7am and 8.30am. He claimed Mr Schuette was taken away in the ambulance.
Mr Francis and other residents told how Mr Schuette was a car fanatic, and owned several Mercedes. Crime scene investigators have been seen inspecting a blue A Class, believed to belong to Mr Schuette.
Oxford police commander Supt Joe Kidman said: "Our strong hypothesis is that Guido died in the fire, and we are continuing to offer support to his family at this time.
"However, while our search of the scene continues and this is not confirmed, one line of enquiry within the investigation is that Guido could be missing."
- Missing Guido Schuette
The Oxford Mail can reveal that Schuette had appeared at Oxford Magistrates’ Court on a number of occasions.
In November 2010, Schuette appeared in front of magistrates charged with possessing a knife.
It was revealed at the same hearing that he attacked and wrecked his own BMW car with his bare fists and threw household items on to it from a flat above the street.
In May 2015, he was hauled up in front of the same court and admitted assaulting a doctor and another man at Abingdon Police Station on April 13.
And in October 2015 he was back in court and was convicted of harassing his neighbour Annie May by repeatedly playing loud music to annoy her on April 12.
Traumatised neighbours of the flats destroyed previously slammed A2 Dominion for poor communication after being left in the dark about where they will sleep each night.
Rob Cook, of Flat 16 Gibbs Crescent, described the ‘horror movie’ moment as he narrowly avoided death, cycling by the building moments before it exploded on Tuesday about 4.45pm.
Since, Mr Cook, 33, has been left with no money, little food and without a change of clothes after being prevented from returning and says housing company
He said: “I was just cycling back to my flat threw my bike up against the wall and went inside.
“I literally turned the tap on and then there was an almighty boom and all my mirrors and pictures came flying off the wall.
“It was like a horror movie, something out of Armageddon – I ran outside and people were just running about screaming and you could hear all the secondary explosions.”
“The first night we were looked after really well, but that wasn’t by A2Dominion as they didn’t turn up until late. The Red Cross and Said Business School helped us with blankets and food.
“A2Dominion have put people in homeless shelter Simon’s House and hostels. It just seems like they don’t want to put their hands in their pockets to help us.”
A total of 40 households were displaced from their homes as a result of the explosion.
- Gibbs Crescent residents with councillor Susanna Pressel.
Mr Francis and his partner Samantha Clark have been temporarily rehomed to sheltered housing in George Moor Close near Donnington.
The couple were in Cowley at the time of the blast and have been stuck in the same clothes ever since, with no access to money.
Partially-blind Mr Francis, 48, said: “We’ve just been dumped here. We’ve been unable to get changed, we’ve got no toothpaste or toiletries or even toilet paper.
"We were given a bottle of water and bottle of pop and that was supposed to last us.
"We are not looking for special treatment, we just want to be treated like humans."
- A fire engine in Mill Street, which was cordoned off
David Lingeman, of A2Dominion, said: “We are deeply saddened to learn that the police suspect a person has died at the scene.
"We can confirm that the individual named by the police is one of our residents. We are continuing to do all we can to support the emergency services.”
An explosion ripped through the building shortly before 5pm Tuesday, rocking surrounding homes and starting a blaze that sent thick black smoke billowing into the air.
Aerial footage from the scene - video. Collide With the Sky - Stan Mackrell
Gavin Long, who lives in the street, said the explosion was like a ‘mini Twin Towers'.
He said: “It is the worst feeling in the world when you rush out and try to help someone but there is simply nothing you can do.
“It was just horrendous, we saw the building just crash down and black smoke everywhere.
“I felt utterly hopeless we were all on our phones trying to call 999.
“There’s about five people who are missing and we are fearing the worst but hoping for the best.
“We have not been able to sleep with the worry.”
The scene of the wreckage on Thursday
A police cordon is still in place at the bottom of Mill Street, with officers preventing anyone from entering the area.
Thames Valley Police officers currently remain at the scene of an incident in Oxford supporting Oxfordshire Fire & Rescue Service— TVP Roads Policing (@tvprp) February 15, 2017
The cordon in Mill Street
As it happened: Our live coverage of the incident as it unfolded
David Stevenson, who lives in Gibbs Crescent, was in his flat when he heard the explosion.
He said: "We all rushed out and just came out to carnage. There was so much smoke.
"I know one of the guys who live at number four is okay because he was standing next to me.
"His home is just completely destroyed.
"We were all stood on our phones calling everyone we knew to make sure they were safe. We were all just stunned.
"There's also a lady I know but she was at work when it happened.
"I don't know how long it is going to take to find everyone, it is just horrendous.
"If it had happened in the middle of the street God knows what would have happened and how many people it would have affected."
- Picture: Ed Nix
Mackie Walsh, who lives just a few doors away from the explosion, was at home when the blast happened.
She said: “I looked out of the window and my neighbour was screaming ‘the kids, the kids, everyone get out.’ “He was running across the green screaming ‘there’s kids in there, there’s kids in there.’
“The whole building had come down. I rang 999 and the police came really fast. It was just so shocking, the flames were 50ft high or more in the air.”
- Picture: Ed Nix
One Gibbs Crescent resident claimed there was a gas line running from a main right outside the property, believed to contain six one-bedroom flats, into nearby Osney Mill Marina.
But a statement released from SGN, gas distribution network company for the Oxford area said: "Following reports of an explosion in the Osney Lane and Gibbs Crescent area of Oxford, our engineers joined the emergency services on site this evening.
"While it’s too early to speculate as to what has happened, we have confirmed there is no mains gas supply to the property affected."
- Picture: Alexander Hammonds
A boat in the marina was set alight and 40 firefighters battled for more than an hour to bring the flames under control.
Marina managing director Les Wright, 54, was just 30 yards away when the blast struck.
He said: “It was just a massive blast, I could feel it. I was very lucky because I wasn’t in direct sight of the building when it collapsed but there were bricks and debris flying all over the place.
“It was quite a frightening scene. I hope to God no one was in there.”
Mr Wright said the explosion caused ‘thousands of pounds’ of damage.
A pregnant woman was taken to the John Radcliffe Hospital in Oxford with minor injuries, while a man was treated at the scene, also for minor injuries.
Alexander Hammond, who was nearby at the time, took dramatic pictures of the aftermath.
He said: “I live over the railway bridge and was just talking to a friend when we heard this massive loud bang.
“I really thought a bomb had gone off.
“We rushed over and you could see the flames over the trees from the footbridge, there were no emergency services when we got there. You could just see rubble and the skeleton of the roof, people were stood about watching what was going on – I didn’t see any people injured.”
- Picture: Ed Nix
Mill Street resident Mike Magee was at home at the time of the explosion. He said: “At about 4.45pm or 4.50pm I was upstairs and there was an enormous bang.
“I thought ‘oh my God’ somebody’s boiler has gone off.
“I went downstairs and opened the back door and there was a series of explosions lasting two or three minutes. The first was so loud I was alarmed by it.
"The rest were not so loud. They were like fireworks or gun shots.”
Neighbour Katy Harding, 26, said: “Straight away I thought it was an explosion. It was so loud.
“I had the window open and I could just smell this smoke so strongly.
“It was so thick and strong, I’ve never smelt anything like that, it just filled your nostrils.
“Then about ten minutes later I heard loads of sirens blaring.
“There were police everywhere.”
Rosemary Preston, who also lives in Mill Street, was among those who rushed outside after being physically shaken by the blast.
She said: “There was a terrific bang. It was absolutely huge.
“Then there was so much smoke. “There was a line of five fire engines and goodness knows how many police cars.”
The area’s MP Nicola Blackwood tweeted her ‘thoughts and prayers’ for all involved and praised emergency services for their collaborative effort.
Oxford City Council’s housing boss, councillor Mike Rowley, said officials had been helping to find people emergency accommodation.
He said: “We will work with emergency services and the landlord, A2Dominion, to make sure people have somewhere to stay in the short-term and then possibly at whether they will need new homes – at the moment it looks like they will.”
Residents in neighbouring Barrett Street are urging on the wider community to donate essential items and funds for those residents still displaced.
Anne James and Helen Dell have both organised a justgiving page for donations to be made to the Gibbs Crescent residents.
For more information visit: justgiving.com/crowdfunding/westoxfordmatters-1