The devastated mother of two little boys who were killed in a fire started by their dad has paid a heartbreaking tribute to her ‘polite and caring’ sons.
Jack Sykes, aged 12, and his brother Paul, nine, both died after their dad Darren Sykes, lured them to the attic of his home with the promise of new model trains, barricaded them inside and set fire to the house.
In an emotional statement read at the inquests into their deaths, the boys’ mother Claire Throssell described her two sons.
She said Paul was a ‘cheeky chap, feisty at times’, and that ‘he was so caring and was always helping others’.
She said Jack was an ‘amazing musician’ and had been predicted A* and A grades, adding: “He didn’t have a bad bone in his body.”
The heartbroken mum said she blamed herself for allowing their final visit.
Miss Throssell told coroner Chris Dorries: “There’s nothing I can add other than the guilt that I carry for what’s happened. I blame myself for letting them go.”
But Mr Dorries told her she was not to blame.
He said: “Your loss deeply affects me. You have nothing to blame yourself about. Put that thought aside.”
The inquest into the boys’ deaths at Sheffield’s Medico Legal Centre heard Mr Sykes and Miss Throssell divorced two weeks before the fatal fire.
During the hearing it emerged Mr Sykes had been worried about visitation rights, stemming from a meeting two days before the tragedy.
The blaze happened on October 22, 2014, during an arranged visit to Mr Sykes’ house in Tennyson Close, Penistone, Barnsley.
The court heard Jack, who was found at the bottom of the ladder leading to the attic, had probably tried to escape.
A dining room chair was found wedged behind the door of the kitchen to prevent the boys trying to escape.
Further chairs were found piled up against the front door.
Jack survived initially, but died five days later after suffering burns to his head, chest and upper limbs, which became infected.
Paul and his father died on October 22 from inhaling toxic fumes.
Fire investigators found 16 pools of fuel had been set alight on the ground and first floors of the property.
On the day of the fire, Mr Sykes, aged 44, transferred some investments he held to a friend, before visiting a model railway store and spending £600 on train tracks and carriages.
Then he went to a petrol station and filled up two cans with fuel before texting his sons and telling them he had two model railway tracks ‘up and running’.
At 3.42pm, he messaged Jack, telling him: “I just need two engine drivers,” Detective Sergeant Stuart Hall told the court.
Less than a minute before he lit the fire at 6.30pm, Mr Sykes sent a text message to six people containing a picture of an angel, which read: “Well as God gave his only son for peace, now I have found peace’.
Det Sgt Hall said earlier in the day Mr Sykes posted several letters including one to his bank telling staff he would not be paying his mortgage because he wouldn’t be alive.
The court also heard from Rhona Murphy, a family liaison officer for CAFCASS - Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service.
She said the organisation was mediating between Miss Throssell and Mr Sykes over visitation rights for the children.
She said at a meeting held between Mr Sykes and Ms Murphy two days before the fire, the possibility of both less contact and more contact was discussed.
They also spoke about concerns raised by the boys that they had been abused emotionally by Mr Sykes in the past.
In one incident it was alleged Mr Sykes had grabbed Jack by the throat during a skiing holiday.
The court heard Mr Sykes’ interpretation of the meeting was that he would get less access to his sons.
One the day of the fire, Mr Sykes called his boss to tell him the CAFCASS meeting had been ‘a waste of time’.
Miss Murphy and Miss Throssell spoke on the phone at 4.14pm about the boys’ visit that night.
Asked by Coroner Christopher Dorries: “Did you have any concerns that the visit should not go ahead?” Miss Murphy replied “no”.
Miss Throssell said: “After that conversation I felt like stopping the visit but because the court order was in place, I didn’t do that.”
Mr Dorries concluded the boys had been killed unlawfully and no-one else was involved.
He said: “It is abundantly clear that this fire was set deliberately.
“I can come to no other conclusion than this was a coldly planned affair with the specific purpose to end two young lives.”
The mum of two boys who died in a house fire started deliberately by their father says there are no words to describe the ‘huge void’ which has been left.
Police read out a statement on the family’s behalf after the inquest into the deaths of Jack Sykes, aged 12, and Paul Sykes, aged nine, at Sheffield Medicolegal Centre.
Read by Detective Inspector Fiona Bowling, it said: “The family are devastated by the deaths of our two kind, loving, gentle and talented boys. There are no words to describe the huge void which has been left in our lives.
“We would also like to thank all the staff at Sheffield Children’s Hospital, the paediatric intensive care unit at Manchester hospital, fire and ambulance crews and the local community for their care to our boys and our family which still continues today.”
Mum Claire Throssell then added: “I would like to thank the family liaison officers, you have all really helped me out. You went over and above.”
Asked if she accepted what the coroner said about not being to blame, she said: “No, but… I wasn’t there when they really needed me. As a mum the only thing I could do was hold them in my arms when they died.
“It might come in time.
“But the coroner’s words were very kind.”