Politics

Point Cook fire: Woman charged with murder over fatal house fire declines to appear in court

A Melbourne woman charged with the murder of a young couple and their newborn daughter in a house fire has declined to appear in court.

New mum Abbey Forrest, 19, and her partner Inda Sohal, 28, died in the blaze alongside their daughter Ivy, who was just 19 days old.

Jenny Hayes, 46, was charged on Thursday evening with three counts of murder and three of arson causing death.

It’s alleged the woman deliberately set fire to the Point Cook townhouse on Wednesday morning, leaving the young family trapped upstairs.

The young family had only moved in three weeks earlier.

New mum Abbey Forrest, 19, and her partner Inda Sohal, 28, died in the blaze alongside their daughter Ivy, who was just 19 days old. Credit: 7NEWS

Hayes was due to face Melbourne Magistrates Court on Thursday evening, but her lawyer Erin Byrt said her client, who was still at the Richmond police station, had asked to proceed in her absence.

Magistrate Luisa Bazzani questioned what the relationship was between Hayes and the family, but Byrt said that had not yet been disclosed.

She also declined to elaborate when the magistrate said she had been told Hayes’ state in prison was poor.

“That about sums it up at the moment,” Byrt said.

Another image of the fire damage at a residential property in Point Cook, Melbourne.
Another image of the fire damage at a residential property in Point Cook, Melbourne. Credit: JAMES ROSS/AAPIMAGE

The court heard Hayes takes medication for restless leg syndrome and arthritis and she will undergo a medical assessment.

It is her first time in custody.

Hayes is due back in court on March 1.

Abbey’s sister, Emily, lamented that the young family should have been celebrating the “perfect time of their life”.

“She was an amazing mum, she just took to it like a duck to water, and I’m so incredibly proud of her,” she told 7NEWS.

“I just know that she would just turn around and just tell me to try and remain really strong.”

Abbey Forrest had only given birth to her daughter less than three weeks ago.
Abbey Forrest had only given birth to her daughter less than three weeks ago. Credit: 7NEWS

‘Frantically gasping for air’

Authorities said neighbours made a “heroic and brave effort” to rescue the occupants, including one who used a ladder but was overwhelmed by the intensity of the flames.

“People were yelling out, ‘There’s someone in there. There’s somebody still in there,’” a man who broke down the garage door in a bid to assist told 7NEWS.

“From floor to ceiling there was fire. I probably took two to three steps and that was it, I couldn’t go any further.”

Images from the scene of the fire.
Images from the scene of the fire. Credit: 7NEWS

One neighbour who was woken by his own smoke alarms told 7NEWS he had seen a woman in the home’s window “frantically gasping for air”.

“We tried everything, we didn’t know what else to do really, we couldn’t run into the house,” he said.

“We just threw an axe through the window and broke it hoping she would climb out and one of us would catch her.

“I don’t think she had the energy to scream she was just trying to breathe.”

Abbey’s sister, Emily, said she was proud of the neighbours who had tried to rescue her sister.

“Knowing and hearing about the neighbours trying to save them just makes me feel at ease knowing that there were decent people around trying to help her,” she told 7NEWS.

Fire damage at a residential property in Point Cook, Melbourne
Authorities said neighbours made a “heroic and brave effort” to rescue the occupants, including one who used a ladder but was overwhelmed by the intensity of the flames. Credit: AAP

Fundraiser launched for ‘beautiful souls’

In a fundraiser for the family, Emily Forrest described the couple and their little girl as “beautiful souls” who would be sorely missed.

“In the early hours of Wednesday, December 2nd, a house fire in Point Cook claimed the lives of my 19-year-old sister, her loving partner and their almost three-week-old daughter,” she wrote.

“I’m raising money to help with the cost of funerals and memorials for all three of these beautiful souls who had their lives tragically cut short.

“Any help is greatly appreciated.”

Inda Sohal, 28, died in the blaze.
Inda Sohal, 28, died in the blaze. Credit: 7NEWS

Tributes have flowed for the couple on social media as devastated friends and family come to terms with the tragedy.

“Rest in piece Abbey, Indi and baby Ivy,” friend Jemma Webb wrote on Facebook.

“I hope that heaven treats you good (sic) … you’ll be missed.”

Arson and explosive detectives believe an accelerant may have been used and are investigating a mattress that was found on the floor in the downstairs area of the home that was seemingly slept on in recent days.

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