Arson probe as charity targeted

Len Curtis surveys the damage caused by a fire at Donna's Dream House.
Len Curtis surveys the damage caused by a fire at Donna's Dream House.
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An arson probe has been launched after heartless firestarters targeted a charity which helps seriously ill children.

Donna’s Dream House in Blackpool has been forced to close and cancel Christmas breaks for the families it helps.

Intruders, who broke in yesterday, set fire to pictures and mementoes of Donna Curtis – in whose memory the charity was set up – as well as part of the Dream House’s Chapel Street building.

Donna’s father Len today spoke of his heartbreak – but said he was determined the centre, which provides holidays for seriously ill children and their families, would re-open as soon as possible.

Mr Curtis said: “We are devastated. We have lost a lot of personal mementoes of Donna because the fire was in the main administration block which also houses my office.

“Whoever has done this has piled everything up including photographs of her in the middle of the room and set it on fire.

“There is an awful lot of heartbreak and memories that have gone up in smoke and they cannot be replaced.

“Donna died on New Year’s Day so this is always a difficult time of year for us as it is.

“The thieves have also broken into the health suite where the sauna and whirlpool bath are and damaged all that. It has put us out of business over Christmas and we’ll have to move families elsewhere.

“However we’ll be working over Christmas to get back up and running by January.”

Firefighters were called to the Dream House just before 7am after a milkman making deliveries raised the alarm.

An office building was well alight but crews were able to prevent the flames spreading further.

No-one was inside at the time, and a family staying in adjacent overnight accommodation were unaffected.

Detectives, who were today examining CCTV footage and using forensic tests to catch the culprits, appealed for anyone with information to come forward.

Det Sgt Paddy Dowling, of Blackpool CID, said: “The source of the fire is suspicious and at this stage we believe the fire has been lit in order to destroy evidence of a burglary.

“There is no doubt without the intervention of the milkman, the whole of the office building would have been completely destroyed.

“We find it incredible thieves would target such a well known and established charity for personal gain, but it beggars belief they would attempt to destroy the property knowing it will have a direct impact on terminally ill children.

“We would appeal to anyone who has any information about the incident or the whereabouts of the stolen property to contact us immediately.”

The items stolen include a flat screen TV, several lap top computers and camera equipment.

Andrew Jones, crew manager at Blackpool Fire Station, said: “When we arrived it was a well developed fire and we used two hose reels to tackle it but we managed to contain it. There wasn’t anyone in the building but there were children staying with their family in adjacent accommodation.”

Donna Curtis died from cancer in 1996, aged just 20. Her parents fulfilled her dying wish which was to help terminally ill children when they set up their charity, with the present premises opening in 2002.

Anyone with information can call Blackpool Police on (01253) 293933 or Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.

>> A list of names of families due to receive Christmas presents from Donna’s Dream House has also been lost in the fire. Anyone on the list should contact the charity on (01253) 752222.