Police are expected to start digging up overgrown gardens at a boarded-up Thornton home today – after being told a body may be buried there.
Officers yesterday erected blue tents at the front and back of a house in Knowsley Crescent following the tip-off, which came some time ago and sparked a major investigation.
Local councillor Jim Lawrenson said: “It’s come as a massive shock. It’s not a place where you would expect something like this to happen.”
Neighbours yesterday told The Gazette of the drama, which unfolded shortly after 9.30am.
One, who did not wish to be named, said: “We just saw a blue van and CSI (crime scene investigators) pull up.
“At first, we thought it was something to do with drugs. It’s normally quiet around here.”
The man watched on as a tent and large portable screen were put up in the front garden, and later as a similar tent was erected in the back garden.
Officers wearing blue uniforms were seen filling large rubble bags with grass and other garden cuttings, while blue tape was stretched across the house’s front gate.
A springer spaniel sniffer dog was also taken into the back garden for around 10 minutes at around 3pm.
A spokesman for Lancashire Police said the officers – some of whom were carrying spades, according to one neighbour – were clearing the garden ahead of today’s expected digging.
He did not say when the call reporting the possible body was made, but it is not thought to have been within the last 72 hours.
The probe is not linked to missing schoolgirls Paige Chivers or Charlene Downes, whose bodies have not been found despite being presumed dead, he stressed.
County Coun Lawrenson said: “Knowsley Crescent was a part of the council estate many years ago.
“It went downhill very badly around 30 years ago but I think it’s recovered now.
“In the last 10 to 20 years, it has become very mellow and quite a nice place to live. It’s not a place where you would expect something like this to happen.”
However, in November 2013, youths renamed the road “Criminal Crescent” when they spray painted its road sign, on a graffiti spree.
In a statement, a spokesman for Lancashire Police said: “We are at an address in Knowsley Crescent.
“We are making an initial assessment of the rear garden in order to establish whether it is a crime scene.
“We will assess the area and if necessary, we will decide on the next step in the search process.
“It is likely officers will be at the scene for the rest of the day and overnight.
“The investigation and activity is not related to the search for Charlene Downes and Paige Chivers, and we are in the process of informing their families of this fact.”
The ground floor windows of the semi-detached house are boarded up.
Neighbours said the house had been empty for several months after the previous tenant was evicted. Several said they had seen police activity at the property for several weeks before yesterday’s operation began.
And those living on the street made clear their shock.
“It’s unsettling,” said one neighbour – a mum of three who did not wish to be named.
“You don’t expect to see that when you go out of your front door.
“I’ve not lived here for long, I didn’t know the guy in the house.
“They’ve boarded up the house and then for a few weeks there have been people coming and going.
“I really don’t know what’s happened, you just hope it’s not anything too bad.”
One man, whose Devonshire Avenue home overlooks the garden of the house, said he had seen activity in the back garden.
He added: “We’ve seen people going in, looking about.
“But nothing like this.
“There’s clearly been something going on.
“Since the house has been derelict there have been comings and goings.
“A couple of times it’s looked like there have been lights on inside the house.
“I don’t know if there’s been people getting in or whether it’s to do with this.”
Another neighbour said the previous occupant of the house had ‘left in a hurry’.
“The police have been here all day,” she said.
“I opened the blind and the blue van was there, then the crime scene van arrived and they put up the tents and the tape. It’s a shock seeing that.
“The house has been empty for two or three months.
“The guy lived on his own, I think his wife had left him.
“They were going to evict him, a notice went up. Then one day he was just gone.
“After that we’ve seen people going in over the last couple of weeks.”
Police spent much of yesterday afternoon going in and out of the garden of the house.
Officers entering and leaving the premises were quick to reassure residents, telling them there was ‘nothing to worry about’.
Neighbour Bernard Boyle, 61, said: “I was out digging my garden this morning and all of a sudden the police are here up and down the street.
“It’s a shock when you see it. It’s a good area, These are all good people.
“I knew the fellow who lived there. He’d always say hello. He was a nice fellow.”