Police sifting through the rubble of a fire-ravaged mansion in Shropshire have found a third body.
The body has yet to be identified but the search through at Osbaston House, set ablaze almost a week ago, had focused on the missing 15-year-old girl, Kirstie Foster.
The remains of Kirstie's mother, Jill, 49, were found on Friday and identified yesterday from her dental records. She had been shot in the head before the fire was started in the early hours last Tuesday. Another body, thought to be that of her father, Christopher, 50, was also found on Friday night but has yet to be identified formally.
The discovery of the third body will reinforce the widely held theory that Christopher Foster buckled under the strain as his business empire crumbled, and killed his wife, daughter and family pets before setting fire to the property.
Although he cultivated his image as a member of Shropshires shooting and fishing set, drove a succession of high-performance cars and indulged his daughter's passion for horses, Mr Foster was broke.
His company, Ulva, which supplied insulated pipes to the offshore oil industry, went into liquidation last year owing more than £1 million to suppliers and another £800,000 in tax. A Court of Appeal judge said that Mr Foster was not to be trusted and was "bereft of the basic instinct of commercial morality". Osbaston House, which he called his "dream home", was under threat of repossession.
West Mercia Police said in a statement that its specialist search team had found "further human remains" in the main part of Osbaston House early yesterday evening.
"A Home Office pathologist attended the scene and confirmed that the remains were human late last night," it added. "Work has now begun to extricate the body to allow formal identification and a post mortem to take place."
Police trawling through the rubble also found Mr Fosters .22 rimfire rifle and the body of a dog near the human remains already found on Friday night. It has not yet been confirmed whether the legally owned gun was used in any of the shootings.
Kirstie, a pupil at the £16,500-a-year Ellesmere College, was a keen horserider. She is known to have been in the house, chatting to friends on her computer, at 1am on Tuesday, two hours before fire engulfed the £1.25 million Georgian mansion.
Detective Superintendent Jon Groves, who is leading the investigation, said today that the removal of the third body was likely to take some time. "We had the remains confirmed as human late last night by a Home Office pathologist and work has now become to extract the body," he said.
"Due to its position, it will take some time to remove. We are hoping to get it out by the end of today, with a post mortem taking place either tonight or tomorrow. A forensic archaeologist is due to visit the site this morning to offer specialist advice to those working to recover the body.
Whoever was responsible for the killings shot Mrs Foster and the dog before killing Kirsties three show ponies in the stable and a further three dogs housed in kennels. They then started the fires, which broke out in the main house, the stable block and the kennels after 3am. Neighbours were alerted by the sound of an exploding car petrol tank an hour later.
The house is understood to have been barricaded from the inside and the window shutters closed and locked. Ammunition, described by the police as spent and unspent gun cartridges, was found scattered around the house and grounds.
Mr Foster and his family attended a barbecue party and clay pigeon shoot thrown by a local car dealer on Bank Holiday Monday, which broke up at about 8.30pm. It is known that Mr Foster drank steadily, although he appeared happy and relaxed alongside his wife and daughter. The journey to their home was less than half a mile along quiet country lanes.
Officially, both Mr Foster and his daughter are still considered missing persons.