'Arsonists targeted my family home'

A FATHER last night told how a terrifying arson attack on his Suffolk home almost cost his step-daughter her life.

Will Clarke

A FATHER last night told how a terrifying arson attack on his Suffolk home almost cost his step-daughter her life.

Furious Howard Downer believes the late-night fire-raisers deliberately targeted his house in Clare, near Sudbury, and is convinced they would have killed were it not for two heroic passers-by who risked their own lives to rescue 17-year-old Hannah Wetz.

Mr Downer now wants local mechanics Gary Bowles, 21, and Jay Bawden, 33, who suffered serious burns, to be honoured for their bravery.

Grateful Mr Downer heaped praise on the pair for their crucial part in the drama, which unfolded as Hannah slept upstairs and while he and his wife, Alison Wetz, were away.

Mr Bawden, who suffered second degree burns to his hands in last week's fire in Bridewell Street, said he and his friend were walking past at just after 12.30am on March 12 when they spotted flames roaring from a wheelie bin placed dangerously close to the front door of the property.

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He said it was only by chance that the pair spotted the blaze as the flames from the bin reached the roof. “First of all we tried to raise the alarm by banging on windows and shouting but we didn't have mobile phones,” he said. “We couldn't raise anyone but we thought there might be people inside because there were cars in the driveway.

“The first thing I did was grab a child's bike in the garden and try and use it to drag the burning rubbish away from the door. It was hard and the flames were spreading. It was hot and I received second degree burns to my hand.

“Gary then picked up a planter box and tipped the earth into the flames and then used the box to help clear the burning rubbish from the door, which was ablaze.”

After failing to get the attention of anybody in the sleepy village, the pair ran round to the back of the house to where they saw the dazed teenager emerging from her bedroom.

Once they had got her to safety they used a garden hose to tackle the flames from the inside.

Miss Wetz thanked the emergency services and the heroic pair for their help.

She said: “The house was filled with smoke when I got up - they saved my life. They were really nice about it and they told me what to do.

“Who knows what would have happened if they hadn't turned up - it was lucky they spotted the fire.”

Mr Downer said: “We can't thank them enough. They saved our daughter's life, there's no doubt about that and we will be looking to see if they can receive a bravery award as a way of thanks.”

He said the arson attack had left his family living in fear.

“We have made security improvements at the house but we won't leave her (Hannah) in the house alone again - I fear for the safety of my family. It was a deliberate attack.”

Mr Downer praised the police response to the fire and the measures currently being taken to catch those responsible.

A spokeswoman for the police said the arsonists stole a wheelie bin and placed it against the front door of the house and set it alight.

She said: “This incident had the potential to cause injury or worse - thankfully the teenager was unhurt and the fire was quickly extinguished.”

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