Historic chapel destroyed in suspected arson attack

AN INVESTIGATION is under way today after a Suffolk chapel was left in ruins by a huge blaze which ripped through the historic structure.

Officials suspect the blaze may have been caused by arsonists.

Flames engulfed the Victorian chapel in Clare Parish Cemetery, off High Street, from about 3.30am yesterday.

Firefighters battling to save the building had to haul the roof off as the intensity of the fire resulted in it beginning to collapse.

Investigators from Suffolk Fire and Rescue Service and the county’s police force are trying to establish if the blaze was started deliberately.

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Paul Goodman, the fire officer in charge at the scene, said a door to the building was open when firefighters arrived. “It is suspected it is suspicious,” he said. “When we got there one of the rear doors was open and that would not normally be, but we cannot confirm anything at the moment.”

Keith Haisman, the chairman of Clare Parish Council, said he awoke to hear of the devastation caused to the chapel and declared it “a sad day” for the town.

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“The chapel has not been used as a resting place for people to go in or to have funerals in for a while - the interior has not been suitable - but nevertheless, it is part of the structure of the cemetery. It is a Victorian building and it is part of the infrastructure of the town and it looked pleasant as you walked through the cemetery and people do sit next to the chapel on benches.”

He added: “It is very sad.”

People were gathering to look at the damage throughout the day yesterday, as the walkway through the cemetery is a popular route with dog walkers heading to The Nuttery woodland.

Mr Haisman said for some of Clare’s oldest families the damage to the chapel would be distressing.

Station manager Goodman said on arrival the whole building was alight and signs pointed to the fact it had been involved in fire for at least an hour.

“It was already through the roof and from looking at the materials inside it led us to think it had been going for some time, certainly over an hour.

“It was straight forward, initially, to fight it from the outside using hose reel jets and mains jets.”

Fire crews from Clare and Long Melford encountered problems though when a water main they had been using burst, forcing them to carry out a relay for supplies in a fire engine until a water bowser arrived from Sudbury.

The blaze caused extensive damage to the chapel, which was basically left with a shell of four walls and debris.

Mr Haisman said the building had contained a street cleaner for the town, only acquired in February, and an old bier - used to carry coffins through the street before the introduction of hearses. Original chairs had also been inside.

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