Emotional send-off for tragic blaze children

Ashbourne funeral of four children killed in house fire, Hulland ward
Ashbourne funeral of four children killed in house fire, Hulland ward

a TEARFUL Rachael Henson blew a kiss to each of the coffins of her four children as she prepared to say a final farewell at their funeral.

Hundreds of mourners packed into St Oswald’s Church in Ashbourne to pay their respects to the youngsters who were tragically killed in a house fire in Hulland Ward last month.

Tommy Everton, nine, Alisha Henson-Nulty, six, Rocco Henson-Nulty, four, and Appolonia Henson, two, died in the blaze at their home on Highfield Road on January 24.

On Wednesday, after the funeral service, they were laid to rest at a family burial in Ashbourne – the boys in blue coffins, the girls in pink ones.

Before the service, their mum Rachael, 45, walked alongside the four hearses carrying her children and tearfully blew a kiss to each one.

The coffins were then carried into the church by family and friends.

The many mourners had started arriving at the church an hour before the funeral was due to start.

Parts of Mayfield Road and Church Street, the roads that merge outside the church, were closed for the funeral procession.

As the four hearses were walked up the road, the sun broke through the clouds and shone down.

The silence was poignant, with the only sound coming from the birds in the trees.

Rachael appeared soon after the hearses pulled up and paid her tribute to her beloved children.

Then, 16 men, the three fathers of the children believed to be among them, took the tiny coffins, each bearing the children’s names, and carried them into the church.

Tissues were handed to the congregation as the Rev Geraldine Pond then conducted a moving ceremony and told how the deaths had deeply affected the Hulland Ward community and Ashbourne, where Rachael works as a hairdresser, and the surrounding areas.

Rev Pond added that the tragedy was “hard to understand and accept”.

Tearful mourners, including children, who filled every pew in the packed-out church, listened as the Rev Pond paid emotional tributes to the tragic youngsters.

She described Tommy as “lively and cheeky” and said he enjoyed fishing.

Little Alisha was remembered as a “ray of sunshine”.

She told of Rocco’s lovely smile and said how he loved trains and Thomas the Tank Engine.

The youngest, Appolonia, was described as a “little princess”.

Rachael did not speak at the service, but Rev Pond told the congregation how she was a “very loving and caring mum”.

Speaking of Rachael’s devotion to the four children, Rev Pond also added: “She worked hard and played hard with them.

“They were her world.”

Mourners sang the hymn The Lord of the Dance, on which it was remarked, Tommy and Alisha would have sung at their schools.

A reading of Psalm 23 followed, along with the poem Do Not Stand At My Grave And Weep, and The Lord’s Prayer.

Rev Pond also read out a children’s story called Guess How Much I Love You.

As the coffins were carried out of the church, the immediate family hurried out after them with tears rolling down their cheeks.

Across the road from the church, St Oswald’s Infant School, which Alisha attended, was closed.

A statement from the school said: “Alisha was a much-loved pupil here and, out of respect for Alisha and her brothers, sister and, of course, their mother Rachael, we will be closing our school for the day.”

The funeral procession, which included four limousines, then made its way down Mayfield Road to the cemetery for a private burial.

The horrific blaze, which had happened 23 days earlier, is said to have been started by a spark or ember from an open fire in the lounge of the semi-detached home.