At around 7:10 pm on Thursday 11 September 2014 residents of Harpurhey, an inner-city area of Manchester, heard unusually loud and frantic barking from Manchester Dogs’ Home on Moss Brook Road. The commotion was the first indication of an arson attack on a dog rehoming centre that in the coming hours would leave a third of the facility destroyed and 60 dogs dead.
First on the scene on the night of the tragedy was Colin Ballance, a key holder who had volunteered at the charity for 25 years. Colin told the Manchester Evening News how he battled through choking black smoke to reach trapped dogs inside the burning home. He remembered dragging two cross-breed dogs to safety, but said there was little anyone could do to save those that perished.
Other heroes of the hour were Jason Dyer, son Danny Vere, and Dean Rostock who jumped over the fence and kicked open kennel doors after hearing dogs barking in panic. Between them the trio were said to have rescued around 20 dogs.
Greater Manchester Fire & Rescue reported that they had brought the fire under control within an hour but confirmed that a large area housing occupied kennels had been completely destroyed.
There were 150 canine survivors in total, all of whom were taken that same evening to the charity’s sister site at Cheshire Dogs’ Home. Many of the dogs rescued were suffering from smoke inhalation and required medical treatment.
As drone footage taken the next day revealed the extent of the damage to the home, hundreds of local well-wishers rallied round to provide food, dog bowls, bedding and blankets.
The charity was also inundated with calls from animal lovers offering homes to the surviving dogs.
The Manchester Evening News (MEN) launched a Just Giving page, which would eventually raise almost £2 million. Animal-loving celebrities including TV personalities Simon Cowell and Ricky Gervais and footballer Mario Balotelli made generous donations.
Public grief and shock quickly turned to outrage, however, after the MEN reported that a 15-year-old youth had been arrested within an hour of the emergency services being called to the fire, following a tip-off from a member of the public. They added that the youth had required hospital treatment after the arson attack. Police released a statement confirming that a 15-year-old boy had been arrested and bailed pending further enquiries.
On 12/09/2014 the MEN then reported that the boy arrested had recently been attacked by a dog. On 13/09/2014 the Daily Mail went a step further and published this picture of the youth outside the local police station.
A few hours later they updated their article replacing the image of the youth with this one:
Desperate to find out the youth’s identity, social media users turned detective and uncovered an article published on 10/01/2014 by both the MEN and national newspaper the Mirror about a 14-year-old Harpurhey youth whom they said “could have had his arm ripped off … when a Rhodesian Ridgeback went berserk in the street”. That youth’s name was Kayne Kennedy and these are the photographs that were published with the article:
Both newspapers have since removed their articles on the dog attack (presumably in response to Kennedy being widely named on social media), but you can still view the MEN’s Facebook post here and their original article has been reproduced here.
The Mail said that the suspect was “one of a handful police suspect may have played a role in the fire”. They said that senior police officers had instigated a ‘safeguarding plan’ for the “families of the suspect and other boys who are being questioned about the fire”.
Kennedy’s personal information was all over social media, particularly Twitter where #KayneKennedy was a trending hashtag throughout the weekend. His name, address, photographs and even details of his family, including his mother’s workplace, were all tweeted and retweeted and shared on Facebook.
Kennedy’s friends and family threw a protective ring around him, apparently refusing to believe that he could’ve been involved in such an evil and malicious act. His mother, Maxine Kennedy, was reported as remaining defiant in the face of the multiple death threats against her son, insisting the allegations were a “pack of lies”.
She said: “They have said that he has had to move away, that the police told him to go away for his own safety but as you can see he is still here. I don’t care what people are saying about threats.
“I am still here and I’m not leaving. I don’t want to talk about it because people will twist everything we say.”
Other names mentioned on social media in connection with the arson attack were local hoodlums Kaylum Davies, Declan Delaney, Elliott Parker, Andy Sloan and, most significantly, Peter Wilson. Wilson’s name began to feature prominently on social media, with some users saying he had “confessed” to setting the fire and that he and his family had fled the area. Others said that Kennedy had been cleared of any involvement in the fire following Wilson’s “confession”.
The following are allegations based on the testimony of local people and must not be taken as statements of fact.
It was said that Wilson, full name Peter Beckham Wilson, born 27/06/2000 of Ringley Street, Harpurhey, had been at the dogs’ home on the evening of the fire with his estranged father, an alleged drug addict also called Peter Wilson. Wilson senior had apparently been stealing lead from the roof of the dogs’ home throughout the week and on the evening of the fire his son had been setting fires to amuse himself while his father went about his thieving. One of the fires took hold and quickly spread to the kennels area which being somewhat ramshackle and constructed of timber burned ferociously.
It was also said that prior to starting the fire Wilson junior had been inside the dogs’ home in the kennels area and had been goading the dogs. One of the dogs had bitten him causing an injury for which he later needed treatment in hospital. One theory is that he started the fire as an act of revenge against the dog that bit him.
Another version of events is that Wilson started the fire accidentally by dropping a lit cigarette in the bedding supplies area.
Accident or not, he and any others at the scene made no attempt to raise the alarm. If he had then the needless death of dozens of helpless dogs could’ve been avoided.
There was a suggestion that Wilson had been accompanied by other youths at the time, one of whom was named as Kayne Kennedy, although this is contradicted by others who said that Kennedy was caught on CCTV elsewhere at the time the fire started.
What is known is that Wilson’s family – mother Diane Edwards and his various brothers and sisters – fled their home on the evening of the fire and were moved by the council into emergency accommodation. They have never returned to Harpurhey.
Kayne Kennedy and his family, on the other hand, remained in their home in Belsyde Walk until January 2018.
In December 2014 it was reported that no charges were to be brought against two youths – a 15-year-old [Kayne Kennedy] and a 17-year-old [whose name we have not disclosed as he was cleared of all involvement] – arrested in connection with the fire. No mention has ever been made in the press of a third youth, 14-year-old Peter Wilson, who has only ever been ‘outed’ locally in the community or on social media.
The police reported at the time that their enquiries would continue but that they were not currently looking for anyone else. They admitted that their investigation had reached “a dead end”.
Local councillor Pat Karney urged Greater Manchester Police not to let their investigation ‘lie on the shelf’.
Sadly, that is precisely what has happened. No justice for the 60 precious souls that lost their lives on 11 September 2014.
2018 update on our two suspects
Last month we published this photo composite to our Facebook page and asked the good people of Harpurhey to contact us with any information that might help bring about justice for the victims of the Manchester Dogs’ Home arson attack. We pixellated out the youths’ faces and used only initials for their names but warned that there would be no further concealment of their identities. Kayne Kennedy turned 18 on 3 September 2017 and Peter Wilson celebrated his 18th birthday in June of this year.
Here is what we have been told. Again these are not statements of fact.
A friend of Kayne Kennedy’s told us that he and the 17-year-old youth were cleared of any involvement in the fire, having been captured on CCTV at Asda at the time of the fire.
Kennedy now lives in Oldham but he and his family only moved from Harpurhey in January 2018. We are told that the local community knew that he was innocent, so there was no need for him and his family to be rehoused.
Peter Wilson, on the other hand, moved out of Harpurhey with his family just after the fire. They initially moved to Heywood in Rochdale and since September 2016 have been at XX Smalley Street, Castleton, Rochdale OL11 3EB.
Wilson is active on social media, particularly Facebook and Instagram, where he accompanies endless selfies with rap lyrics.
Until recently he was tearing around the streets of Castleton in a grey BMW. This car was recently impounded by Greater Manchester Police:
He is now driving a blue Jaguar with a ’51’ number-plate.
So what now?
We contacted Greater Manchester Police via Facebook and while they told us their investigation remains open, advised to submit a Freedom of Information request to the Chief Constable. We have done this.
We hoped for a little support from Harpurhey councillor Pat Karney but his response to our email was disappointingly brief:
“Thanks. Not heard anything You will have to contact the Chief Constable.”
Well that is what we have done, Councillor Karney, though we think your attitude quite shameful in light of the bluster you made about seeing the culprits brought to justice.
We are also looking into requesting a copy of the fire investigation report from Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue.
We also wonder whether the fire could have been prevented had there been better security at the dogs’ home which had been the subject of repeated attempted break-ins and acts of vandalism. See this interview with the manager at the time of the fire, Lisa Graham;
On the subject of management at the home, this blog post from German Shepherd Dog Rescue makes interesting reading. A key question relates to whether there were any staff present on the site on the evening of the fire.
More updates to follow just as soon as we get them.
If you have any information about the arson attack on the Manchester Dogs’ Home, we would very much like to hear from you. All responses will be treated in confidence – we never disclose a source.