Son's agony at deaths of sister, 17, and mother, 50, in burger van

Son's agony at deaths of sister, 17, and mother, 50, in burger van

February 15, 2023

‘They spent their last moments trying to put a smile on my face’: Son reveals his heartbreak after finding his sister, 17, and mother, 50, dead ‘from carbon monoxide poisoning’ after they decorated his burger van as surprise treat for his 26th birthday

  • Distraught Tyla Wanstall, 26, found the bodies of his mother and sister yesterday
  • Leah Churchill, 50, and Brooke Wanstall, 17, died of ‘carbon monoxide poisoning’

A grieving son has shared his heartbreak after finding his mother and sister dead at his burger van yesterday morning – which they had been decorating as a surprise treat for his birthday. 

Tyla Wanstall said he arrived at his Meat ‘N’ Greet Snack Wagon in Whitstable, Kent to discover his mother Leah Churchill, 50, and 17-year-old ‘beautiful baby sister’ Brooke lying lifeless on the floor.

It is believed they had been poisoned by carbon monoxide fumes from the generator – which is used outside during working hours but kept inside overnight for security reasons – while decorating the van as a surprise for Mr Wanstall’s 26th birthday.

Mr Wanstall, of Faversham, Kent, said he arrived at the wagon at about 8am to start work and was surprised to see his mother’s car parked outside.

‘It’s heartbreaking to think they spent their last few moments just trying to put a smile on my face,’ he said. 

Leah Churchill, 50, and her 17-year-old daughter Brooke Wanstall (pictured together) were decorating the Meat ‘N’ Greet snack truck for a birthday celebration when they died

Leah Churchill, 50, and 17-year-old Brooke Wanstall were found in the vehicle on a road in Whitstable, Kent, on Tuesday (Pictured: The pair in the van on a previous occasion)

‘They were decking the van out inside in balloons and bunting as a birthday surprise for me, like my mum would do at home every year. 

‘I didn’t even know they were going down there last night but she must have started the petrol generator up to keep warm without realising the danger.’

Mr Wanstall says the family has been left reeling from the tragedy and still trying to come to terms with what happened.

They are planning a balloon release in their memory on Herne Bay beach.

Mr Wanstall added: ‘I opened the van door and and saw my mum and sister and for an instant thought they had fallen asleep,’ he recalled.

‘I smelt fumes but it just didn’t register straight away, but it became obvious they were both dead.

‘I called the police and ambulance but it was the firefighters who told me it was likely carbon monoxide poisoning.

‘It’s heartbreaking to think they spent their last few moments just trying to put a smile on my face.’

Mother-of-four Ms Churchill lived in Canterbury, Kent.

Brooke’s brother, Tyla Wanstall, (pictured) said he found his relatives inside the truck after smelling fumes and claimed it was ‘obvious they were both dead’

Tyla was unaware that Leah and Brooke had gone down to the food truck site last night to prepare for his birthday surprise

Tyla suspects that his mother (pictured) turned on the petrol generator ‘without realising the danger’ so they could ‘keep warm’ while decorating

Leah (left) and Brooke’s (right) deaths are expected to be passed on to the local coroner for a future inquest

Mr Wanstall, who has just had a baby boy with his partner Beth, said of his mother: ‘She was so kind and would do anything for anyone.

‘She would take a homeless man in off the streets if she was allowed. Brooke was just a live-wire with a huge personality.

‘Mum worked all over the place, mostly in hospitality, and used to run the Share and Coulter pub in Greenhill.

‘She was helping me in the burger van a couple of days a week.’

He said his sister Brooke had just left Archbishop’s School in Canterbury after completing her GCSEs, adding: ‘She had her whole life in front of her.

‘She did really well in her grades and had just started work as a carer, which she was really enjoying. She was also due to take her driving test next week.’

Another sister, Ocean, 23, added: ‘[Brooke] tried working in the van a couple of times but that definitely wasn’t for her.

‘Working as a carer was what put the spring in her step and the only thing she wanted to do.’

Mr Wanstall has also issuing a warning about the dangers of carbon monoxide poisoning.

He said: ‘Mum made a fatal mistake and we don’t want this to happen to anyone else.

‘Be aware of this thing, people. If you haven’t got a carbon monoxide alarm go and get one. It is a serious killer.

‘I don’t know how we’re ever going to get over this.’

Kent Police have been contacted for comment.

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