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The BBC's Robert Hall reports
"Forensic teams began the delicate task"
 real 28k

Friday, 25 February, 2000, 15:36 GMT
Grim search begins at MP's home

The house was completely gutted by the fierce fire
The house was completely gutted by the fire

The grim search has begun of the country mansion where the bodies of a Conservative MP and his wife are believed to be after fire swept their home.

Michael Colvin, 67, and his wife Nichola, 62, are believed to lie somewhere in the gutted remains of the west wing of Tangley House, near Andover in Hampshire.

Mamma and Dadda were devoted to each other. They were inseparable in life and our only consolation is knowing that they died together in the home that they loved

Jamie Cayzer-Colvin
Their children have accepted their parents were killed in the blaze, saying they gain comfort from the fact that the devoted couple died as they lived - together.

Three people, including a structural engineer and a forensic scientist, entered the house below the Colvins' bedroom on Friday morning.

A wall was knocked down to make the structure safer to work in and it is understood that a much larger group of fire safety officers will sift through the fire-ravaged west wing later in the day.

As the search got under way, the MP's son, Jamie Cayzer-Colvin, spoke for the first time about his parents' death in the fire, thanking the emergency services for their "tireless work" at the scene.

Overwhelmed by kindness

In a prepared statement Mr Cayzer-Colvin said: "My sisters Amanda and Arabella, Elizabeth, my mother's sister, and Alistair, my father's brother and I have been overwhelmed by the amazing warmth and kindness that has been shown to us by so many people during these dreadful hours.

Michael Colvin Michael Colvin: Missing
"My parents touched countless people's lives but none more so than all of those at Tangley who meant so much to them and who did so much to help on Thursday morning," he said.

He added: "Mamma and Dadda were devoted to each other. They were inseparable in life and our only consolation is knowing that they died together in the home that they loved."

Burned out shell

Fire crews had been unable to enter the burned out shell of the imposing 10-bedroom building as the intensity of the blaze in the early hours of Thursday left it unstable and dangerous.

But after surveying the structure it was decided it was safe enough to attempt the entry.

Station Officer John Greenbank, of Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service said: "Our first priority is to account for the missing people and then to investigate the cause of the fire."

Staff and firefighters battled in vain to enter the blazing house, before being beaten back by flames fanned by high winds and resorted to shouting to the bedroom window where the couple were thought to be sleeping.

Village in mourning

Alvaro Pereira, the couple's butler of more than 40 years who was one of the first to be alerted to the blaze, said he did not believe the house had been fitted with smoke alarms.

Firemen at the scene Blaze was fanned by high winds
A local priest met the couple's family at the ruins of the house to conduct a private prayer ceremony for them.

Meanwhile the one-street village of Tangley was also trying to come to terms with the tragedy.

The livelihoods of many villagers were linked to Mr Colvin's estate where he farmed 1,000 acres with a 160-strong dairy herd and fields of wheat.

Villagers said the MP was well-liked in the local community. One man said: "The whole village is absolutely devastated."

Conservative party leader William Hague also paid tribute to both Mr Colvin and his 62-year-old wife, praising the countryside-loving MP as a "true Tory" with a strong commitment to his constituency and Westminster politics.
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See also:
24 Feb 00 |  UK Politics
Tories in shock over Colvin fire
24 Feb 00 |  UK Politics
Michael Colvin MP: Tory squire
24 Feb 00 |  UK
MP feared dead in fire

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