A MOTHER may have been responsible for killing her son and taking her own life by starting a car fire in Thorpe Bay yesterday, police say.
Officers believe the bodies in the black Vauxhall Vectra are those of Catherine Mhlaba, 45, of Blythe Avenue, Shoebury, and her 16-year-old son Beki Ali, who suffered from extreme global delay - meaning he had a mental age of about six-years-old.
However, cops said formal identification is likely to take several weeks.
The tragic deaths are being investigated by detectives from the Kent and Essex Serious Crime Directorate and their investigation is currently looking at the possibility that Catherine Mhlaba was responsible for killing her son and taking her own life by starting the fire inside the car.
It is understood Catherine was the daughter of a founder member of the Movement for Democratic Change, the political opposition to Zimbabwe leader Robert Mugabe.
Reports suggest she played a key role in Southend's MDC branch.
Detectives are appealing for anyone with information to contact them at Southend on 101.
They are particularly keen to hear from a dog walker who may have been in the area at about 5.20pm or anyone who may have seen the car at any time either before or during the fire.
Police are aware some people may have taken moving footage or images on mobile devices at the time and would ask for these to be made available to detectives.
Eyewitnesses reported seeing the car explode and no other cars are thought to be involved.
Fire crews from Southend and Shoebury were called to the scene in Thorpe Esplanade last night.
The firefighters battled the flames but could not save the mum and her son.
Crews were first called to the incident at about 5.20pm.
The fire was put out by 5.50pm.
The stretch of road between the junctions of Thorpe Hall Avenue and Maplin Way was cordoned off by police and a temporary screen erected halfway down the road.
According to one eyewitness, the car was moving at the time it became engulfed in flames. Paul Smith's girlfriend Mandie Cotton was on her evening run with a friend at the time.
He said: "She was quite upset when she got home but we didn't know anyone was in the car until later on when we saw it online.
"The car was rolling at the time, in a normal driving position, before it exploded and she didn't know whether someone had got out of the car when a fire had started.
"She was only 25 or 50 yards away from the car when it exploded so she was pretty shaken. She said it was really frightening."
Those living near the incident tweeted their horror at watching the fire unfold.
Amy Louise Mills tweeted: "Horrific car fire along Thorpe Bay Gardens, worst thing I have ever witnessed."
Echo reader jaypoulton said: "It was horrific as I was on bus when I saw it. Just hope no one else is involved in this horrific accident. RIP to the people who died in the fire and my thoughts are with your families."
Moira Mason, from Thorpe Bay, added: "I saw the road seafront in Thorpe Bay was closed.
"There were many police officers there. How terrible this was. I cannot quite believe it. Everyone I saw in the Tesco in Thorpe Bay Broadway tonight were shocked and upset.
"All our thoughts are with the families of those who died. Absolutely awful."
Echo website reader, hmgarwood123, added: "Absolutely devastating! I was driving past when the car exploded. My car's been obtained by the police as it got damaged in the explosion. My heart goes out to the two people and there families. RIP X"