A year after a deliberate blaze left a Blackpool shop in ruins, it has been the target of yet another arson attack – but police are yet to make a single arrest.
The story of the former Pit Stop store, on Bloomfield Road, is far from unique, as the vast majority of arsonists on the Fylde coast go unpunished.
The Gazette can reveal that less than 15 per cent of arsons in Lancashire were solved by police last year.
The deliberate blazes – which account for almost a third of all fires in the county – have put lives at risk, ruined business and turned once-proud buildings into eyesores.
In the last 12 months, arsonists have been responsible for a string of fires that gutted Blackpool hotels as well as the attack that left the Pit Stop store unable to reopen.
Figures from Lancashire Fire and Rescue show there were 499 deliberate fires on the Fylde coast in 2013.
They include hundreds of nuisance fires, but 82 of the blazes were classed as “serious” – 60 of them in Blackpool.
Yet Ministry of Justice records for the whole of Lancashire – where there were 3,251 arsons last year – show just a handful of people were sentenced for the crimes.
Of the 84 people to go before the courts in 2013 charged either with arson or criminal damage offences, just 35 were locked up. A further 20 were given community sentences.
Figures from Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary show the number of arsons solved by Lancashire Police fell slightly to 14.7 per cent between April 2013 and March 2014. It remains above the national average, which rose to 11.2 per cent.
When the Pit Stop was first set alight, on October 10, 2013, dozens of nearby residents were forced from their homes in the middle of the night as firefighters battled to save their homes from being caught up in the blaze that threatened the entire row of terraced properties.
Despite a joint investigation from the fire service and police, nobody was ever arrested.
The building was again targeted on October 1 this year.
Chris Kenny, chief fire officer for Lancashire, said: “Around 500 cases of arson affect commercial, educational and domestic premises annually in Lancashire, amounting to 30 per cent of all fires dealt with by Lancashire Fire
and Rescue Service.
“Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service and Lancashire Constabulary are determined to bring about further reductions in arson, which is always a potential killer and inflicts an economic burden on communities, with many businesses attacked by arsonists not reopening.”
A Lancashire Police spokesman said: “Any reports of arson that are received by the police are thoroughly investigated.”
Other Blackpool fires
On June 5, the derelict Palm Beach Hotel, on New South Promenade, was left in ruins after being targeted by arsonists. Two people have since been charged with arson and are due to appear in court this week.
On April 26, firefighters spent four hours tackling a blaze at the former Misterton Hotel, on Blundell Street. At the time police appealed for information about a gang of youths seen in the area. No arrests were made.
On October 10, 2013, the Pit Stop store on Bloomfield Road went up in flames. Police said a pile of tyres in a back alley had been set alight. No arrests were made.
On August 1, 2013, a 66-year-old man had to be pulled from his smoke-logged flat on palatine Road after a fire was started in the hallway. A 58-year-old man was arrested but released with no further action. Nobody else has been arrested in relation to the fire.