A HEARTBROKEN aunt fought back tears as she helped to bury her two young nephews and her sister who were murdered in their beds.

More than 200 mourners attended the funeral of former Darwen woman Celeste Bates, 31, and her two sons, 18-month-old Milo and eight-year-old Daniel. All three were found battered to death at their home in Blackburn Road, Egerton, a fortnight ago.

Celeste's sister, Maria Martins, who lives in Burnley, carried Milo's coffin into Christ Church, Walmsley, near Egerton, as the community said its final goodbye yesterday .

Mourners stood in silence as three hearses full of flowers arrived outside the church containing three coffins.

Pallbearers carried Celeste, her coffin bedecked by floral tributes, followed by soccer-loving Daniel, who had a football on top of his smaller casket.

Milo's tiny coffin - topped by a teddy bear and flowers - was clutched by his aunt who idolised her fun-loving nephew.

Inside the picturesque Victorian church, sunlight shafted through stained glass windows as the three were placed on stools draped with purple and gold-trimmed cloth. Three candles burned brightly as Christ Church's vicar, the Rev David Brierley, spoke of three lives cut cruelly and tragically short.

Describing Milo, who defied doctors by surviving a difficult birth, as a "gift from heaven", he said the curly-haired tot was the sort of lad "who won over hearts on first meeting."

Daniel, a pupil at Egerton Primary School, was said to be a "sensitive, intelligent and inquisitive little boy" who loved to play football with his granddad or tackle computer games with dad Ian Bates.

A poem on Daniel's coffin read: "The tears in my eyes I can wipe away, but the ache in my heart will always stay. Lots of love always, Gran Joan." Other flowers - including one with a Thomas the Tank Engine model and a model car - had been left by local shopkeepers, pub regulars, neighbours and the police inquiry team at Bolton police station.

As mourners, including Daniel's classmates, sobbed, the vicar added: "He always wanted to know how everything worked and, with a head on him in advance of his years, he wanted to put the world to rights - he dreamed of being a doctor."

Celeste, a deputy manager at Abafields Nursing Home, Bromwich Street, Bolton, was described as a loving parent who would always try to help others.

Mr Brierley said the young mum - "attractive, essential, vibrant and in love with life" - would want folk to celebrate their lives rather than be filled with gloom.

He added: "Always immaculate, always beautifully turned out, no matter what time of day you met her, she was nevertheless a genuine person, sincere with total integrity. She knew what were the really important things in life."

Milo, named after a Greek legend who survived against all odds, had been christened at Christ Church. But he was buried alongside his mum and brother side-by-side in the same grave in the churchyard.

As mourners including friends, neighbours, family, police, and Abafields residents filed back from the private burial, floral tributes at the chapel entrance told of a community's grief.

One white and orange-flowered tribute, from Abafields, carried two cards.

An ode to Celeste read: "A heart of gold still beating. Two smiling eyes at rest. God broke our hearts to prove to us he only takes the best. We love you. God bless always."

A tribute to Daniel and Milo added: "Two little flowers, lent not given to bind on earth, but bloom in heaven."

Converted for the new archive on 14 July 2000. Some images and formatting may have been lost in the conversion.