Date: 9 May 2005
Vikki Preston and Rhona Schofield were killed in an arson attack at a house in King Street, Higher Broughton on 10 May 2005.
The fire was started deliberately on the ground floor of the terraced house where they were asleep upstairs by someone that had entered the house through an open front door.
Vikki Preston and Rhona Schofield had had an argument with some other people in the house earlier in the evening. Later the other parties in the argument left and Vikki Preston and Rhona Schofield went to sleep. However, later on in the morning between 3.40am and 4.10am two fires were started in two separate rooms on the ground floor. The fire brigade were called out at 4.09am after neighbours heard the windows if the house blow out.
The fires were started in the front lounge and the rear lounge where the furniture had been set on fire. In the rear lounge a sofa had been set on fire and in the front lounge an armchair had been set on fire. The forensic experts said that they had ruled out all other possible causes such as an electrical fault or a smouldering cigarette. The police later said that they thought that the fire had been started with the intention of killing the girls noting the way that foam filled armchairs and sofas in both a front lounge and rear downstairs living room had been set on fire.
The fire became intense and Vikki Preston and Rhona Schofield died from the smoke inhalation after becoming trapped in their rooms. It was said that the temperature in the house due to the fire by 4am was 1.000C and had been hot enough to blow the windows out.
It was said that Rhona Schofield had been woken up by the smoke and had tried to crawl along the floor to the door to shut it, leaving a mark on the floor as she did. However, he was thought that she soon died from smoke inhalation after the fire consumed all the oxygen in the house.
It was noted that the front door had been left open which had sucked in fresh air and that the stairway had acted like a chimney sucking up all the flames into the first floor.
The fire experts said that once the fire had reached the stairs that there would have been no chance of getting out and that the lack of oxygen would have meant they would have become unconscious very quickly.
Vikki Preston and Rhona Schofield had only been in the house for a few days. They had not actually lived in the property, Vikki Preston having lived in Manchester Road Kearsley, Bolton and Rhona Schofield having lived in Beckett Avenue, Higher Broughton. It was noted that they had both chosen to stay at the property overnight.
They had been best friends since they were at high school together at Kersal High and were said to be like sisters.
Police said that they had three suspects but that no one was charged. One of the people, a woman, that had been living in the property but left the day before was heard to have previously stated that they had wanted to kill the girls. At the inquest it was heard that she was six months pregnant and had moved out of the house after a row with her boyfriend after Vikki Preston was said to have told the woman's boyfriend that he wasn't the father of the woman's child. It was also heard that Vikki Preston had told the woman that she had slept with her boyfriend. They boyfriend was in custody at the time of the fire for breaching bail conditions. It was heard that during the argument she had asked everyone to leave the house as it was her that had been paying the rent, but that when they refused she had gone back to her mother's house nearby. When the woman had got back to her mother's house, a family friend there said that she was going mad, saying she was going kill them and that she was going to get someone to batter them because Vikki Preston said she had slept with her boyfriend. The family friend said that they sat up talking about it until about 4.30am.
A 62-year-old man was also arrested. He had lived locally. The police also investigated a third man.
Their inquest ruled that they had both been unlawfully killed.
The row of houses that 23 King Street had been part of has since been demolished. At the time of the fire the street had been a mixture of empty and boarded up properties along with properties that were still occupied as the area was undergoing regeneration.