Police hunt cafe arsonists

POLICE are hunting arsonists who destroyed a family-run café and may have been responsible for three other fires in an Essex town in just one night.The Pasha Café in Leather Lane, Braintree, was completely destroyed after flames ripped through the building on Saturday night.

Elliot Furniss

POLICE are hunting arsonists who destroyed a family-run café and may have been responsible for three other fires in an Essex town in just one night.

The Pasha Café in Leather Lane, Braintree, was completely destroyed after flames ripped through the building on Saturday night. A fire had been started in a bin at the rear of the property.

Nobody was in the property at the time but 16 people living in nearby flats were evacuated just before 10pm.

Fire crews from Braintree, Coggeshall and Halstead dealt with the blaze and are investigating the incident, which has been linked to three more small fires started nearby.

Neville Helps, 35, and Azra Sadic, 20, , live in a flat in the same building as the café and were among those evacuated.

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Mr Helps said: “The firemen were superb. We didn't hear or see anything - just smelled the smoke. At first I thought I had left something on in the kitchen then there was the knock on the door.

“They just wanted to know if we were ok.”

Fellow resident Andy Karczewski moved into his flat a year ago with his girlfriend Agnieszka said: “It was quite a big fire. They came to inform us about it and we had to come out and wait until they made it safe. After about an hour, we came back in.”

The blaze completely destroyed the ground floor of the café.

Station Officer Duncan Lewis, incident commander, said: “Firefighters worked hard to stop the fire from spreading to adjoining businesses.”

Fires were also started in a bin at the rear of the White Hart Hotel in Bocking End, another bin nearby, and also in a post box outside the Swan in Bank Street.

Matt Rothwell, who was the duty manager at the White Hart Hotel, said he spotted flames coming from a bin and used a fire extinguisher to put them out.

He said: “I was worried about the residents and ran down and got the fire extinguisher. As I ran I saw a guy wearing a white hoody and dark jeans run off.”

Last night an Essex Police spokesman said it was treating the café blaze as arson following a joint investigation with the fire service.

She said officers were appealing for anyone who was in the area at about 9.30pm and may have seen anyone acting suspiciously to get in touch.

She added: “Police are also investigating reports of two rubbish bins and a post box that were set alight at around the same time, but which were quickly extinguished.”

Anyone with information is asked to contact officers at Braintree Police Station on 0300 3334444.