A MURDER investigation has been launched following the death of a pensioner in a house fire.

Yesterday police searched drains and raked through leaves looking for evidence in connection with the blaze, which happened in Pleckgate Road, Blackburn.

Officers revealed a 30-year-old woman and two men, aged 33 and 38, had been arrested on suspicion of murder.

Police said a further two men, aged 36 and 37, and two women, aged 29 and 48, who had also been arrested in connection with the attack, were later released without charge.

Former lecturer Christopher Proctor lived alone at the bungalow, which was destroyed by the fire.

A post mortem has been carried out on the 88-year-old, although the cause of his death is not yet certain.

The fire happened during the early hours of Saturday morning.

Firefighters were called to the property after a passerby raised the alarm.

A linguist, Mr Proctor had lived at his Pleckgate Road bungalow for more than 40 years.

He graduated from Pembroke College, Cambridge, before taking up a post at an Accrington School.

Between 1958 until his retirement in 1985 he taught at what was then Blackburn Technical College.

Detective Supt Paul Withers, who is leading the investigation, said inquiries into the cause of the fire were continuing.

He said: “I would appeal for anyone who has any information which may assist us in our inquiries to come forward and contact us.”

An inquest into Mr Proctor’s death was opened and adjourned yesterday.

Blackburn, Hyndburn and Ribble Valley Coroner Michael Singleton said: “I believe the police are still treating the death as suspicious.

“I need to know if the police are yet ready to release the body.”

He adjourned the inquest to January 9 to allow police investigations to continue.

Anyone with information should call police on the non- emergency number 101 or Crimestoppers on 0800 555111.