Blackpool hotel chiefs slam thieves as blaze backlash begins

Police at the scene yesterday
Police at the scene yesterday
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Angry hoteliers have today warned action is needed to prevent a repeat of the blaze that gutted another seafront property.

The suspected arson at the Warwick Hotel, on New South Promenade, has sparked fresh calls for owners to take responsibility for their properties.

Firefighters tackle the blaze at the Warwick Hotel

Firefighters tackle the blaze at the Warwick Hotel

The building – along with the next-door Palm Beach, which is now boarded up after being damaged by fire last year – has had a long-standing problem with youths breaking in.

But the owners of the Warwick today insisted they have spent “thousands of pounds” keeping it secure in the three years since it closed.

Two people – aged 15 and 18 – have been quizzed by police over the fire, which devastated the hotel and damaged the neighbouring Headlands Hotel.

Claire Smith, who runs Number One South Shore, just metres away, said: “This has been an accident waiting to happen.

We have told police daily that youngsters have been getting into the building and, to be fair to the police, they have responded. However, the problem has not gone away

“We have told police daily that youngsters have been getting into the building and, to be fair to the police, they have responded. However, the problem has not gone away.

“I don’t blame the police or the council for what has happened – the blame lies with the owners of the hotel who have left it in this state. Hotel owners and residents on South Shore should not have to put up with this.”

Around 40 guests at the Headlands Hotel had to be evacuated while firefighters tackled the blaze on Monday night. Bosses were given the all clear to welcome guests back yesterday morning but said “four or five” rooms were left out of action by water damage following the fire.

It is not yet clear how the offenders got into the building but police said it is possible they got in through the Palm Beach, which has had ongoing issues around its security.

It is understood police were due to visit the hotels later in the week to help secure them.

Ms Smith added: “The Palm Beach fire should have served as a warning. If properties are abandoned like this, the council should have the power to take them over.”

But Paul Bennett, managing director of UK Holiday Group, which owns the Warwick, said he felt let down by the police as the building was “systematically” gutted by thieves.

He said: “We have a good relationship with the council. Whenever they have alerted us to an issue we have immediately got a company to go round and board it up – there has been no limit on expenditure.

“It is difficult when you are up against organised criminals who have taken every bit of metal and cleared it out.”

The problems with youngsters breaking into the hotel began after the criminal gangs stripped it bare, he said.

Blackpool Council said the safety of neighbours was a “priority”. Coun Gillian Campbell, deputy leader of the council, said: “We have been in contact with the owners of the Warwick Hotel today and they have agreed to secure the building.

“However, what we really need is for them to determine what they intend to do with the building in the long-term and take action to resolve it.

“This needs to happen promptly as the situation has gone on for too long now and it is of no benefit to any party.”

One nearby hotelier, who asked not to be named, said he rang police about the on-going problems at the Warwick less than two hours before the fire broke out.

He said: “We called police and told them there were kids hanging around the back of the building.

“It’s been a problem ever since they closed the Palm Beach. People started breaking in to steal the copper. Now the kids seem to spend a lot of time round there. It is down to the owners to put a stop to this.”

Firefighters were called to the hotel at 8.50pm on Monday as flames tore through the roof of the building.

Susan Simkin, who owns the next-door Headlands Hotel, praised the response of the emergency services, adding: “We have been very fortunate – it could have been a lot worse. We have got quite a few thousand pounds of damage thought. It is mainly water damage.”

Insp Mark Morley, of Blackpool Police, said whenever officers have asked for the building to be re-secured then the work has been carried out.

He added: “We have worked with the council who have put some cameras on the outside of the premises, which have assisted us identify possible offenders.”

An 18-year-old woman from Lytham and a 15-year-old boy from St Annes were arrested on suspicion of arson with intent to endanger life and were last night in custody, where they were due to be interviewed by police.