THE grieving family of a North-East man, killed doing the job he loved, have spoken of their shock at his death.

Steeplejack Craig Whelan, 23, died when a fireball engulfed the 150-metre chimney he was demolishing at a factory in Bolton, Greater Manchester.

The accident also killed colleague Paul Wakefield, 40, from Nottinghamshire.

Mr Whelan, from Crook, near Bishop Auckland, County Durham, moved to Nottingham two years ago with fiancee Jill Wallace to start a new life.

The couple, who had a three-year-old daughter Katie, had been due to marry in February. But he remained close to his many friends and family, visiting home regularly and socialising in Crook, where the Horse Shoe pub was a particular favourite.

His mother, Linda, 45, who is divorced from Craig's father, Alan, told last night how she had pleaded with her son to give up the job because of the dangers it carried.

She said: "We can't believe it's happened. It was a tragic accident, but it's something that should never have happened.

"He loved his job. His job was his life and he's done it ever since he left school, that's all he ever wanted to do.

"Even though I used to ask him to pack it in and look for something else he wouldn't, because he loved it."

Older brothers Darren, 28 and Dean, 27, are devastated by the death. Younger brother Chris, 11, had a special bond with Craig, who was brought up in Newton Aycliffe, and is finding it difficult to come to terms with his loss.

Mrs Whelan said: "Craig was really close to him. They really had something special and he was more of a father figure."

Fiancee Jill, 23, who had been with Craig since they were both 17, said three-year-old daughter Katie was the apple of her father's eye.

She said: "Daddy's girl didn't even begin to describe it. All she had to do was flutter her eyelashes at him and he'd do anything for her.

"He was a fantastic, fun-loving guy. We are going to miss him more than anything in the world."

A spokesman for Churchill Steeplejacks in Ruddington, where Craig worked, said: "He loved his work, and the effort and devotion he gave to Churchill will be forever appreciated. He will remain in our hearts and minds."

An official investigation into the cause of the explosion has been launched, but results are unlikely to be known for months.

A funeral service will be held at St Cuthbert's RC Church in Crook at 1.30pm on Wednesday, followed by a reception at the Horse Shoe.