Exning Primary School is ‘devastated’ over arson attack on first day of term

Jane Segust, deputy head at Exning Primary School, outside the school, which has been damaged in an

Jane Segust, deputy head at Exning Primary School, outside the school, which has been damaged in an arson attack. - Credit: Mariam Ghaemi

A west Suffolk school community has been left “devastated” following an arson attack on the first day of term.

The scene of a fire at Exning Primary School.

The scene of a fire at Exning Primary School. - Credit: Archant

Exning Primary School, near Newmarket, did not open yesterday due to the fire in the early hours of the morning.

Police confirmed yesterday afternoon that the blaze, which spread from a shed to the main school building, is being treated as arson.

The shed has been completely destroyed and extensive damage has been caused to a year one classroom in the 19th-century building.

The youngest pupils had been due to start their first day of school yesterday, and for others they were returning after the summer break, but the primary was forced to remain shut.

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Speaking to the EADT, deputy headteacher Jane Segust said: “Obviously at the moment we are all absolutely devastated. The damage to the school has had a massive effect on absolutely everybody: the staff, the children, the community.

“The fire service have been absolutely fantastic along with the police presence here. We have nothing but praise for the services - they acted very, very quickly.”

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She said the school was able to inform parents using social media, email and the school website, adding parents of the new students were also contacted via text message.

She added: “The Exning community is amazing. Numerous parents had arrived this [yesterday] morning offering help. Children have been offering their money boxes. We have just had a call from Tesco [in Newmarket] who offered to do lunch for the staff on site. It really has been overwhelming.”

She said it is not yet known when the school, which has 199 students, will reopen, adding they need to make sure the building is structurally safe.

“At this stage we are not envisaging teaching the children off site,” she said, adding they are hoping to come up with a solution at the school.

Keith Miller, landlord of the White Swan pub, which is near the school, and neighbour Rob Ellis discovered the fire and attempted to stop it spreading.

They acted on instinct, filling watering cans with water from an outside tap and using sand from a bin intended for bad weather.

Mr Miller said: “I used to be a policeman. Your instinct is just to get stuck in and just do it. I feel really sorry for the ones [children] who were due to be starting today [yesterday].”

He added: “The community are up in arms about it. It’s a village and a lot of adults went to this school when they were kids. It’s horrible.”

Mr Ellis, who has lived next to the school for 20 years, described how alarms alerted him to the blaze.

He said: “We got the flames down quite a lot and then we could see there were flames inside the classroom.”

Seven fire crews were dispatched to the fire after several calls from the public at about 12.50am.

Firefighters from Newmarket who were first on scene immediately requested back-up from other crews, including an aerial ladder platform.

Wearing breathing apparatus, firefighters were able to use two jets to break up the fire and had the blaze under control by 2.47am.

Pat Dacey, district commander for west Suffolk at the fire and rescue service, said: “The officer in charge and the first crews to arrive made the bold and decisive decision to fight the fire from the inside, and it was the determination of those crews working in punishing conditions that saved the school.”

Anyone who witnessed any suspicious activity in the area, or who has any information about this incident, is asked to contact Bury St Edmunds CID on 101 quoting reference NE/15/1501.

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