Mystery surrounds a missing millionaire and his family following a suspected arson attack on their secluded Shropshire country estate.
Osbaston House, in Maesbrook, near Oswestry, reportedly worth £1.2 million, was razed to the ground in the early hours of Tuesday.
Police are still trying to establish whether Christopher Foster, his wife Jill and their 15-year-old daughter Kirstie were at home at the time of the fire, shortly before 5am.
Speaking from the scene Detective Superintendent Jon Groves, from West Mercia Constabulary’s Major Incident Unit, said the house and a number of outbuildings, including a stable block and a garage, had been “severely damaged” by the fire.
He added that three horses had been found dead in the grounds of the estate and four dogs were missing.
Asked whether the investigation was a missing persons inquiry or a murder investigation, Det Supt Groves refused to comment.
Police also declined to comment on reports that a horsebox had been parked in front of the gates to the property as the blaze took hold, blocking the entrance to emergency services.
The house was set in 15 acres of land with a stable block and kennels.
Search teams have been unable to enter the fire-ravaged building, which is set behind electronic gates, due to the severity of the blaze.
A spokeswoman for West Mercia Police said a structural engineer had been at the scene but had not yet declared it safe for officers to enter.
Fire crews and a forensic expert have also been at the site and CCTV footage has been recovered.
Mr Foster was described by neighbours as a “multi-millionaire” who made his fortune developing insulation technology for oil rigs.
A Company Record obtained from Companies House lists Mr Foster, aged 50, as the director of Ulva Limited, which went into compulsory liquidation in 2007. The same record names Mrs Foster, aged 49, as company secretary.
Ulva Ltd, a thermal insulation manufacturing company based in Telford, went in to administration on August 14 last year. A court order was issued on November 13 for the company to be wound up.
Birmingham-based firm Butcher Woods yesterday confirmed it had been appointed as liquidator but declined to comment further.