Policeman badly hurt in gas blast

A police officer has suffered serious burns to his face in a suspected gas blast which injured five others.

The explosion ripped the roof and front off the single-storey home above the River Tyne in Marian Court, Gateshead.

Police were attending with an engineer and paramedics were on stand-by after a strong smell of gas was reported in the area.

The elderly occupant of the house was being led away by a paramedic wearing protective gear when the blast occurred. The paramedic shielded the pensioner from the worst of the blast force, a North East Ambulance Service (NEAS) spokesman said.

Three police officers who had got the man out of the small property were hit by the explosion, as was a gas engineer. All were taken to hospital, where their injuries are said to be not life-threatening.

The NEAS spokesman said: "There were three police officers injured, two of whom have burns to the head and forearms, and one of them has more severe burns to his face and is in a more serious condition. The gas engineer had minor burns."

Superintendent Dave Byrne of Northumbria Police said: "The house has been completely destroyed. It has been a sizeable force that has caused the damage." One local resident walking his dog added: "You cannot believe people have survived that. The roof's gone and there's debris everywhere."

The injured paramedic was a member of the hazardous area response team who was trained to deal with non-standard 999 calls. "It's never nice when one of our own is injured and we are obviously thinking about him," the ambulance spokesman said. "Quite clearly, his quick actions in evacuating people from the property, and the fact he was wearing protective equipment which allowed him to shield this man from the full force of the blast, have helped lessen the injuries that could have occurred."

A Northumbria Police spokesman said: "The Health and Safety Executive have now been informed and will take the lead in this investigation. The condition of those in hospital remains the same."

There was no fault with the local supply leading up to the explosion, Northern Gas Networks said. The firm, which operates the gas emergency service for the north east of England, northern Cumbria and most of Yorkshire, said: "We can confirm that the explosion was not the result of any issue with the local gas network. We will continue to work with the police as they carry out an investigation."