'Despicable' burglars chased off from wrecked Portsmouth house that exploded leaving pair in hospital

‘DESPICABLE’ opportunistic thieves have been chased off from a house devastated in an explosion that seriously injured the mother and son occupants.

By Steve Deeks
Friday, 12th November 2021, 4:55 am
Updated Friday, 12th November 2021, 7:07 am

Ruthless would-be thieves have been seen loitering around the devastated house in Nelson Avenue, North End, where Denise Smy and her son Gary miraculously survived after Royal Navy Petty Officer Jon Thornber rescued the pair from the burning wreck on October 22.

But as homeless Denise, 82, and Gary, 56, were in hospital being treated for their injuries with most of their belongings lost forever in the blaze, criminals were looking to exploit their suffering.

However, neighbours – who have been publicly thanked by Denise and Gary for helping them in the immediate aftermath and for their incredible fundraising efforts – have once again come to the rescue.

Gary and Denise whose house in Nelson Avenue exploded in Portsmouth

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Denise’s younger sister Sylvia Fisher said: ‘They have lost almost everything but are hoping to salvage whatever they can.

‘But there have been people trying to break-in and take what’s left. It’s hard to believe people would do such a thing.

‘One of those happened just a few of days after the explosion in the evening. Luckily one neighbour heard them and chased them off.’

Rob Milner, store manager of Tesco in Cosham helped raise over £4,500 for the victims of the Nelson Avenue house explosion. Photos by Alex Shute

Neighbour Anthony Morrisey, 70, who was among those who helped Denise and Gary after they were rescued, said: ‘People were trying to get in round the front and the back before they were chased off.

‘It’s quite shocking. It’s a quiet road and we don’t normally get any crime around here.

‘Why anyone would want to go in there I don’t know. There can’t be much left. I saw a police car stop outside the house the other day.’

Dave Clint, 73, who lives opposite Denise and Gary’s house, said he was aware of one incident involving teenagers.

The house in Nelson Avenue that exploded has now been boarded up to prevent break-ins. Pictured on November 11, 2021.

He said: ‘A neighbour shouted at them and they ran off before giving him some lip. It takes some believing.

‘I saw some lads come running down here the other day and knock the doors and run off. I think the street’s had enough trouble.’

Tony Nolan, 56, who has lived in the road for 30 years, said: ‘It’s despicable people have tried to burgle the house – you can’t get any lower.

‘It’s good the issue has come to light and people know about it now and can keep look out. We are a tight-knit community.’

Gary and Denise Smy, who survived when their Nelson Avenue home exploded. Pic supplied.

He added: ‘I wouldn’t have thought there was anything worth taking. It’s normally quiet around here.’

Metal fences protecting the front of house have since been put up with residents not aware of any incidents since then.

The house still remains vulnerable – with a large chunk of the top front wall and roof missing – but the front door and bay window have now been boarded up to prevent break-ins.

Police said they were not aware of any attempted burglaries of the house but have told residents to contact them with any concerns.

Officers were seen outside the house this week.

Sylvia said Denise and Gary were in ‘good spirits’ despite their ordeal with them likely to remain at the specialists burns unit in Salisbury ‘for weeks’ as they receive ‘amazing care’ from staff.

Flames coming from a property in Nelson Avenue, North End, after an explosion. Picture: Paige Emery

Community rallies

Despite still being in ‘a lot of pain’, the support of the community has been a tower of strength for the beleaguered mother and son - with around £6,000 now raised for them from various fundraising initiatives since the blast.

More than £4,500 has been raised by the Tesco store in Cosham where well-known and ‘much loved’ Gary has worked on the tills for 33 years.

‘Everyone knows him because he is on the tills,’ Sylvia said. ‘He is such a lovely lad. People have been so nice to them both.

‘Gary can’t wait to go back there but I think it will be weeks before they leave hospital. They are in good spirits though.

‘I can’t get over what people have done for them – so many people and companies have done so much and raised so much money for them. They’ve literally got nothing and their house is due to be knocked down so we are all so grateful to everyone.

‘The people in Nelson Avenue flew out of their doors and were chucking buckets of water over them. And if it wasn’t for Jon Thornber they might not be here – he saved them.’

Sylvia, who is in the process of moving to Portsmouth from Locks Heath to be closer to her sister and nephew, was at Denise’s house the morning before the blast.

‘I got a call from Denise’s neighbour and flew down to the hospital to see them. I was shocked,’ she said.

‘Both were in the middle room when it happened. Denise said to Gary: “Do you want a cup of tea?” and turned the kettle on and the house blew up.’

She added: ‘Salisbury hospital is doing a fantastic job for them.’

Rob Milner, store manager of Tesco in Cosham, said: ‘Gary has been a much-loved member of the team for 33 years and is very well-liked member of the local community in Cosham.

‘Our customers and the local community have really rallied to support Gary and Denise in this difficult time and we’re thrilled to have raised £4,500 to help Gary and his mum rebuild their lives.’

Gary will feature on a TV programme next year about his experience.

Ring 101 to report a burglary or online at hampshire.police.uk/ro/report/ocr/af/how-to-report-a-crime

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