Arson probe after pub gutted in fire

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AN ARSON probe has been launched after a pub, which once housed one of the Fylde coast’s largest cannabis farms, was gutted by fire.

Thirty foot flames shot up into the air from the roof of the historic Wardleys pub in Hambleton during the incident yesterday.

The pub, which was where tragic a 20-year-old, Ben Murgatroyd, drank “a lethal amount” of alcohol before he died, has stood empty since November.

Witnesses describe how the whole building on Wardley’s Lane was aglow as around 20 firefighters tackled the blaze from 1am.

Owner Terry Pedersen said the building was a “write-off” and estimated around £500,000 of damage.

He added: “I feel very angry. The previous tenant had left the pub in reasonably good order and we were trying to find a new tenant.

“The firefighters and police have been fantastic. And I was very pleased the local community came together to help – I got phone calls to tell me what had happened.

“We’re just going to make the site safe and secure and then get an engineer in on Monday.”

Firefighters remained at the scene for 12 hours. It is thought the blaze broke out in the first floor, at the back of the building, and spread to the roof.

Three crews from Fleetwood, Preesall and Bispham and an aerial ladder platform from Blackpool were initially sent to the scene.

Colin Hickson, watch manager from Fleetwood Fire Station, said: “It’s been a severe fire and the crews have been here all night and through the day. The fire is under investigation for being deliberate.”

Witnesses from the adjacent caravan park said they were shocked to discover the fire.

Michael Seddon, 67, said: “It was pretty horrendous. The flames were 30ft above the chimney.”

And Eric Mylott, 68, said: “The flames came right through the windows and the building started glowing red and orange.”

The pub has suffered a chequered past. More than 1,500 cannabis plants, with a street value of around £1m, were found growing in nine rooms of the building when it was operating as the Rainbow Palace Chinese restaurant in 2007.

And Wardleys was banned for selling booze for a month in 2009 after the landlady allowed a group to drink at the pub until dawn.

The review came after Mr Murgatroyd was found dead in a pond at his mother’s house on Mains Lane, Singleton, following a heavy session at the Wardleys in November 2008.

Police were already investigating a number of break-ins at the pub, including one on Friday when the premises was stripped of copper piping and brass.

Det Sgt Andy Hoyle, from Fleetwood CID, said: “It’s an un-explained fire in a derelict building. We need to establish what has caused it – whether it was something inside which has combusted or started deliberately.”

Call police with information on 0845 1 25 35 45 or Crimestoppers on 0800 555111.