Mother pays tribute to her ‘four angels’ murdered in an arson attack

Devastated mother whose ‘four angels’ were murdered in horrific arson attack on their home that left her in a coma is seen for the first time as she gives message of thanks a year after blaze

  • Michelle Pearson put into induced coma after attack on December 11 last year 
  • It killed Demi, 15, Brandon, eight, and his sisters, Lacie, seven, and Lia, three
  • Mrs Pearson paid tribute to her ‘four angels’ and thanked community for support 
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The mother of four children who were murdered in a petrol bomb attack on their own home has paid tribute to her ‘angels’ in a moving video statement recorded from her hospital bed.

Michelle Pearson was put into an induced coma after the attack on December 11 last year, which killed Demi, 15, Brandon, eight, and his sisters, Lacie, seven, and Lia, three.

Speaking to a vigil marking a year since her children’s deaths, she thanked the emergency services and her neighbours, who have provided donations to help the family get back on their feet.

Michelle Pearson (seen on the left in her recent message to the vigil; and right, in an undated family photo) was put into an induced coma after the attack on December 11 last year, which killed Demi, 15, Brandon, eight, and his sisters, Lacie, seven, and Lia, three

Hundreds of mourners attend a candlelit vigil on Jackson Street in Walkden on November 11 

‘First of all, I’d like to thank all the firefighters for what they have done,’ she said in a statement seen by the Manchester Evening News.

‘Second, I would like to thank the community for all their generous donations. And last I would like to thank everybody for coming tonight.’

A caption read: ‘Thank you everybody for coming. Lots of Love, Michelle and the four angels.’

More than 100 people attended the memorial event to mark the anniversary of the outrage, with many of those present wiping away tears as they watched Mrs Pearson’s presentation.

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Zak Bolland was convicted of murdering the four children and the attempted murders of three others inside the house. He was told he must serve a minimum of 40 years for the four murders.

His partner, Courtney Brierley, 20, was found guilty of four counts of manslaughter over the deaths of the children and locked up for 21 years. 

He was ordered to serve a minimum term of 37 years.

David Worrall was convicted of four counts of murder. He was also found guilty of attempting to cause grievous bodily harm against the survivors but cleared of trying to murder them. 

Brandon, eight, Lacie, seven, and Lia, three, (pictured together in an undated photo) died after the fire in Walkden

Demi Pearson, 15, also died in the house fire in Walkden on December 11, 2017. Seen in an undated photo 

CCTV images captured Bolland and Worrall filling up a petrol can at a Texaco fuel station before arriving at teenager Pearson’s home in Walkden, Greater Manchester.

The two men then removed a fence panel from the garden of the Pearsons’ home, smashed a kitchen window and tossed in two lit petrol bombs.

One landed near the stairs, blocking the only exit to the ground floor and trapped the occupants as they lay asleep inside.

Kyle, 16, managed to escape out of an upstairs window but his siblings Demi Pearson, 15, her brother Brandon, eight, and sister Lacie, seven, sleeping in a front bedroom, perished in the flames.

Younger sister Lia, aged three, was rescued from the house but died in hospital two days later.

Mrs Pearson, who was sleeping in the same room as Lia escaped the blaze but was overheard screaming ‘Not the kids! Not my kids!’ as the fire engulfed the three bedroom mid-terrace house.

CCTV shown to the jury showed Bolland and Worrall at the address at 4.55am for one minute and five seconds.

The cameras recorded a flash then a larger second one from the petrol bombs, before they fled.

Neighbours ran out to help but were beaten back by the heat and flames as multiple 999 calls were made.

Three fire engines scrambled to the scene, the first arriving at 5.04am, with firefighters in breathing apparatus finding Brandon face down on his bedroom floor, as if trying to crawl out, and Lacie directly behind him, suggesting she was following her brother to try to escape.

Demi was found on a bunk bed, hands stretched out to the open window, and Lia was found in the bath.    

Zak Bolland and David Worrall were both convicted of murdering the four children. Courtney Brierley, 20, was found guilty of four counts of manslaughter. They are seen in undated mug shots 

The three survivors escaped by jumping from windows or being dragged out of the burning building. The house is pictured shortly after the attack in December last year 

Fire damage to the property in Walkden, Greater Manchester, shown in a photo issued on May 24 last year

Arson killer’s history of violence to women and ‘fixation with fire’

Zak Bolland had a history of violence against women and an apparent fixation with fire before he killed four children in a petrol bomb attack.

He stalked the estates around Walkden in a black hoodie, kept a pit bull-type dog, did not have a job but had money for drink and drugs, and habitually carried a large machete with an 18in blade down his tracksuit bottoms, ‘for protection’, he told the jury.

In September 2014 he grabbed a female victim by the hair and dragged her across a street and was convicted of battery.

Two years later he punched another woman, grabbed her throat and threatened her with a hammer. Again he was convicted of battery.

He also made a threat to burn down the house of a relative of the victim.

When a one-time ally, who later became an enemy, came under threat from a notorious Salford gang known as the A Team, Bolland advised him: ‘We should burn them out if they get out of cars, don’t give them a chance, burn them.’

Bolland lived at home with his mother – who worked at Salford Royal Hospital, where his victims were taken – along with his stepfather, two of his three brothers and his girlfriend Courtney Brierley.

He had known Michelle Pearson since he was six, had been in her home and knew her children.

During previous attacks on her house, and on the night of the fatal fire, he admitted being high on drink and cocaine, which Brierley told the court made him more aggressive and paranoid.

He would carry on arguments through Facebook and text messages, winding himself up as the insults continued.

Bolland thought nothing of calling Mrs Pearson, a mother of six, a ‘rat’ and a ‘scruff’ – or breaking her windows, causing her children to run upstairs in terror.

He showed no emotion in the witness box, except to say he found it difficult to accept ‘what had happened’.

He suggested the fire-bombing was a ‘spur of the moment’ idea thought up by David Worrall – but he had used fire just two days before the fatal attack to torch Mrs Pearson’s wheelie bin.

Brierley claimed her ex would lock her in their bedroom, hide her clothes, obsessively monitor her calls and social media, and use violence to enforce his rules.

He gave her a black eye and her mother, who ‘despised’ him, put the photo on Facebook and it was shared thousands of times.

After his arrest he wrote to Brierley five times from prison, telling her it was him and her ‘against the world’, and that he loved her and wanted to marry her so she could have his babies.

He wanted her as an alibi – to back up his claim that he thought the house was empty – but she did not reply and it failed.

‘You would throw anyone to the wolves if it helps you, you will tell any lie to save yourself and you will sacrifice anyone who gets in your way,’ Andrew Hall QC, defending Brierley, told him.

As firemen battled the heat, smoke and flames to bring them out, a team of 15 paramedics worked on the mother and her children laid out on the snow-covered street.

Bolland and Kyle had been friends until the accused’s Peugeot car was set on fire and his house windows smashed, around November 25 last year, about two weeks before the fatal attack, and he blamed the teenager.

The defendant demanded £500, sending harassing text messages, one demanding: ‘Fire letter box I want my £500.’

Bolland threatened to fire bomb Mrs Pearson’s home, leading her to call police on November 26, and the fire service fitted a letter box cover.

But due to an ‘apparent misunderstanding’ police took no action against Bolland for smashing windows at Mrs Pearson’s home – and days later he was back gloating that he had escaped police action and taunting her with shouts of ‘Grass!’

Mrs Pearson again called police and asked for a restraining order, but two days before her children were murdered her bin was set on fire and the word ‘Grass’ spray painted on her house.

Hours before the attack, Bolland and Worrall spent the night drinking before both made their first visit to Jackson Street around half past midnight on December 11, about four hours before the fire.

Worrall attacked the front door with a metal pole before Bolland threatened he would ‘Kill ’em all’, before they left.

Police arrived and took a statement from Mrs Pearson, one officer checking on the youngsters upstairs, who were asleep.

Back at his mother’s house two minutes’ walk away, Bolland and Worrall became more aggressive as they snorted cocaine and drank lager before Bolland said: ‘Shall we do it?’ and Worrall replied: ‘Yeah, I’ll do it.’

Arming themselves with an axe and a machete they got a frightened friend, Abigail Toone, to drive them to a Tesco garage for the petrol to be used in the attack.

Ms Toone drove them back to Bolland’s home, where the two men went inside, emerging a few minutes later with the bottles.

Brierley gave the driver directions to an alley near the Pearson home where she told her boyfriend: ‘Do it quick Zak, hurry up,’ as the two men got out with the bottles.

Bolland and Brierley were arrested at around 6pm on the day of the fire, after contacting police, walking hand-in-hand to the officers who arrived to arrest them.

Worrall was arrested, ‘shaking profusely’, the day after as he stepped out of the shower at his mother’s house on Coronation Street, Salford.

Bolland admitted throwing the second petrol bomb but said he intended only to damage the house which he thought was not occupied.

‘I heard like a big whoosh. I didn’t look back,’ he told the jury.

He blamed Mrs Pearson’s sons for an earlier attempt to torch his car, smash his windows and set fire to his mother’s home.

Worrall said he thought they were only going to set fire to wheelie bins and denied throwing a petrol bomb.

Brierley said she did not know the two men had petrol bombs and claims Bolland had a ‘controlling influence’ over her during their ‘toxic’ relationship. 

CCTV of Zak Bolland buying petrol from a Texaco fuel station ahead of the arson attack on December 11, 2017

An image taken by firefighters of the property ablaze in Walkden on December 11 last year

Petrol cans used in the attack are pictured in an image released shortly after the attack in December 2017

Manchester Crown Court heard Bolland and Kyle had once been friends but fell out in November last year after the older man’s car was set on fire.

Woman who played the victim had string of assault convictions

Courtney Brierley portrayed herself as a victim of domestic violence and ignorant of her boyfriend’s plans to firebomb the Pearson household.

But she was not averse to using violence herself.

The 20-year-old had a string of convictions for threatening behaviour, street robbery and battery.

While on holiday in Wales in 2014, she head-butted and punched another woman to the ground.

When she was arrested, it needed five people to restrain her.

One police officer said Brierley was ‘the most violent person I have ever had to deal with in custody’.

In WhatsApp messages with Zak Bolland in February 2017, Brierley told her boyfriend of her anger at another person, saying: ‘I wish I could set the house on fire and lock all the doors and windows and watch them burn alive.’

Her parents split and she had been living at home in Walkden, Greater Manchester, with her mother, stepfather and two younger brothers and two younger sisters.

She met Bolland at a party and had been seeing him for about a year before the petrol bomb attack.

Like Bolland she did not have a job but did enjoy drinking and drugs and admitted she could sometimes get ‘mouthy’.

Brierley said the relationship turned ‘toxic’ but she loved Bolland, who was her first boyfriend.

She claimed he would not let her speak to her family, return home or contact other male friends, was obsessive and possessive and often violent, especially after drinking and taking drugs.

He also broke her iPhone and deleted her Facebook, WhatsApp, Snapchat and Instagram accounts.

He gave her a black eye and her mother put it on Facebook, where it was shared thousands of time.

‘My mum hated him and he hated her,’ Brierley told the jury, adding that she still forgave Bolland ‘many times’.

On the night of the fire, she asked her mother if she could go home.

‘Not until you leave him, Courtney,’ her mother replied.

She told the jury she played no part in any plan to fire-bomb Michelle Pearson’s home.

As Bolland set off, Brierley told him: ‘Be quick, Zak, don’t take ages’ – but she told the jury she only thought the target was to be the wheelie bins.

She did not reply to Bolland’s love letters sent from prison while both were on remand, and refused to provide an alibi.

But she was accused in court of being ‘economical with the truth’ – giving a distorted picture to lessen her culpability for the fire-bombing.

He blamed Kyle for the blaze and a series of ‘tit-for-tat’ vandal attacks occurred at their respective family homes.

The feud escalated two weeks before the murders when Kyle’s mother made a statement to police after Bolland sent her a text saying: ‘You owe me five ton today no matter what, you bunch of rats.’

In a series of messages to Brierley he said: ‘I’m wanted now babe. She’s grassed me up. The feds just been.

‘Big mistake this innit. Just going to get interviewed and get bail and smack the grass.’

But after officers decided to take no further action over the window smashing due to a ‘misunderstanding’ Bolland texted a friend saying: ‘Got NFA. Ha ha ha. Michelle proper put a statement in. I’m buzzing. She’s a stupid c*** and I’m going to let everyone know she’s a grass.’

A cover was fitted on Mrs Pearson’s letter box to prevent petrol being poured through and set alight – but she also asked officials to be moved because she ‘no longer felt safe’ in her home.

Four hours before the arson attack on December 11, Bolland hammered on the front door of the Pearson’s home, shouting: ‘All your family’s getting it, they’re all gonna die. I’ll kill them all.’

Police assured Mrs Pearson officers would drive past the house every hour but in the meantime Bolland and Worrall went to the local garage with a petrol can, buying £1.50 of petrol.

They used the fuel to fill two glass beer bottles and returned with Brierley in a Fiat Punto car to the Pearsons’ home.

Next door neighbour Karen Kormoss told the jury: ‘I could hear Michelle shouting, ‘Not the children. Not the kids.’

‘I could hear her voice, ‘Not my kids. It happened in two minutes. The windows blown out and the flames coming out of both the upstairs and downstairs. It was gone. Just smoke.’

Another neighbour Tony Holdsworth said he saw flames ‘coming out like a jet’ from the windows of the house and saw Kyle and a 17-year old friend ‘going absolutely crazy’ outside pleading for the children to be rescued.

Mr Holdsworth kicked in the front door in but was beaten back by the flames and heat.

Bolland admitted arson but denied murder claiming he thought no one was at home. Brierley and Worrall also of Walkden denied all the charges.

Speaking after the sentencing, Greater Manchester Police’s Chief Inspector said the case had been one of the most ‘heartbreaking’ of his career.

Detective Chief Inspector Lewis Hughes said: ‘This is one of the most heart breaking cases I have ever dealt with.

‘I am glad that the sentences these three have received today reflect their atrocious acts, but nothing can change what has happened and nothing can bring back the children.

‘I would like to commend the bravery of the children’s family. I can’t even begin to imagine what they have been through.

‘My thoughts will always be with their mother Michelle, along with their father, brothers and wider family and friends.’

Grandmother’s heartache: ‘I’ve still got all the kids’ Christmas presents in my wardrobe’ 

Pictured: Heartbroken Grandmother Sandra Lever, who spoke after the court case ended in May 

After Bolland, Worrall and Brierley were jailed in May, grandmother Sandra Lever spoke of her grief and described how she still has her four grandchildren’s Christmas presents in her wardrobe that she had planned to give them last year.

She described the children as ‘lovely, quiet’ and ‘happy go lucky’. 

She said: ‘They all had their own view what to do with life when they were older. 

‘Demi just wanted to go to college. Brandon, he also liked architecture, he always wanted to build a big house for his mum when he was 18. 

‘Lacie was always dancing, Lia was still a baby, she just used to copy Lacie.’

The grandparent said it has been ‘horrible’ for the family, with the murder happening just before Christmas.

She said: ‘I’ve still got all the kids’ presents in the wardrobe. 

‘(It’s been) horrible, because it was Lacie’s birthday on the first of December so she managed to have her birthday out of the way and, Michelle, it was her birthday on the 23rd and she spent it in hospital.’ 

And she found out about the fire after a neighbour spotted her daughter Michelle’s house on the television. 

She said: ‘We made a few phone calls. Three fatalities, that’s all we heard. Not sure who because there was six in the house that night.

‘So we didn’t know who passed away and we were praying, ‘Oh, not the kids, not the kids’.’

She said she knew about the problems Michelle had been having and her fears that their home would be attacked. 

Speaking on behalf of the family outside court, Ms Lever said: ‘Today may be the end of the trial, but its not the for us as we try to recover and get on with our lives.’

‘Michelle, the children’s mum is still in hospital recovering from her injuries and will be for some time to come.

‘The staff have been amazing and are trying their best to fix her, but they will never be able to fix her broken heart.

We miss the children every day our lives are just not the same without them. I was a nanna of 11 now I am a nanna of seven. 

‘We will never again here their voices shouting out granddad or nanna or auntie Claire, auntie Sarah, Uncle Matty or Uncle Chris. That thought leaves us numb.

‘We won’t be able to tell them off for the running in the supermarket, or hear them giggle as they jump too high on the trampoline.

‘I hope that Bolland, Worrall and Brierley know they have taken away the light of our lives.

‘We are very happy with the result and would like to thank all those who have helped us to get justice.’

Mark Andrews, of the Crown Prosecution Service, added: ‘The actions of Zak Bolland, David Worrall, and Courtney Brierley resulted in the deaths of four innocent children.

‘All three denied responsibility but the CPS built a strong case and demonstrated to the jury that they were all responsible for the deaths of Demi, Brandon, Lacie and Lia.

‘This included presenting evidence which showed the defendants had purchased petrol and glass bottles and had threatened to harm the family before the arson.

‘Our thoughts are with the family and friends of the victims.’

Timeline: Key events leading up to deaths of four children in house fire

The death of four children was the culmination of a series of tit-for-tat attacks during the “petty” feud between Zak Bolland and Kyle Pearson over a three week period late last year. Here are the key events:

  • November 25: Zak Bolland’s Peugeot car is set on fire. He claims his house on Blackleach Drive, Walkden was also targeted with petrol but he put out the flames and blames Kyle Pearson. He demands money for the damage, texting Pearson’s mother Michelle Pearson: “Fire letter box I want my £500.”
  • November 26: Around 9am Bolland uses a hammer to smash the front windows and panes of glass in the front door of Mrs Pearson’s home at 8 Jackson Street, and she calls police.
  • Later that day Kyle Pearson, his brother Lewis, and friends Bobby Harris and Luke Fleming, all armed with clubs and hammers, smash windows at Bolland’s mother’s home. Bolland, Courtney Brierley and his brothers clash with the Pearsons in the street.
  • Police attend Mrs Pearson’s home in the evening after Bolland sends a text to Kyle threatening to petrol bomb the house.
  • November 28: Fire service attends to fit a letter box cover to 8 Jackson Street, to prevent accelerants being poured inside and set alight.
  • December 1: Bolland and Brierley go to the Pearson house, taunting Mrs Pearson that Bolland had been “NFA’d” – escaped police action for breaking her windows – and he makes further threats. She calls police, gives a statement and asks for a restraining order on Bolland.
  • December 9: Shortly before 6am Mrs Pearson’s wheelie bin is set on fire and “Grass” spray painted on her house by Bolland. Police attend and she names Bolland as the likely culprit.
  • December 10: Bolland and Brierley are joined by David Worrall and others in the evening, buying two cases of Budweiser from a local shop at 10.27pm.
  • December 11: At 0.40am Bolland, Worrall and two others go to Jackson Street “kicking off”, bashing the door and Worrall threatening to “Kill ’em all” before returning to Bolland’s house.
  • Police attend and take a statement from Mrs Pearson, who wants Bolland arrested, before the officers leave 90 minutes later.
  • 3.30am Bolland, Brierley and Worrall buy a case of Stella lager and a bottle of wine from a local garage and return home to Bolland’s house.
  • 4.33am Bolland and Worrall pay £1.50 for 1.23 litres of unleaded petrol from a local garage, put in a green petrol can.
  • 4.54am Bolland and Worral lift a garden fence panel at the back of 8 Jackson Street. Seconds later the flares of two petrol bombs are caught on a local CCTV camera.
  • 5.04am The first of three fire engines arrive and enter the house, which is already well ablaze, to rescue the occupants.
  • 5.47am Brandon Pearson declared dead in hospital.
  • 6.02am Lacie Pearson declared dead in hospital.
  • 7.10am Demi Pearson declared dead at the scene.
  • 5.56pm Bolland and Brierley arrested by police.
  • December 12: Worrall arrested.
  • December 13: Life support turned off for Lia Pearson, aged three, at 2.30pm.

A smashed window and slashed blind are pictured at the house in Greater Manchester in a photo issued on May 24 this year 

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