Probe into arson attack on County Hall

AN INVESTIGATION is under way today after one of Suffolk's most famous buildings was targeted by arsonists.

AN INVESTIGATION is under way today after one of Suffolk's most famous buildings was targeted by arsonists.

Firefighters tackled two fires started last night at County Hall in Ipswich - the former HQ of Suffolk County Council.

Members of the public reported seeing smoke rising from the roof of St Helen Court in the complex at about 9.15pm.

Four fire crews were sent to the scene in St Helen's Street to tackle the fires. They used the turntable ladder from the outside while firefighters entered the now-derelict building wearing breathing apparatus.

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A spokeswoman for the fire service said crews extinguished one fire at about 10.15pm and continued to search for others.

They discovered another in a stairwell near the roof of the building at about 10.50pm and put out the flames.

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The fires were put out by 11.40pm and crews used thermal imaging cameras to make sure there were no further hot spots. Firefighters remained on scene late last night to make the building safe and to clear the smoke.

A spokeswoman for Suffolk Fire Service said it was believed the fires had been started deliberately and an investigation was under way with police.

The Victorian castellated building is one of the most iconic buildings in Ipswich. It includes the former law courtroom where Wallis Simpson was granted a decree nisi for her divorce in 1936 which led to the abdication of King Edward VIII. They married the following year.

The white brick and stone building was also the former home for East Suffolk County Council and became the HQ for Suffolk County Council in 1974.

The county council moved out of the building in 2004 to to a new HQ across Ipswich at Endeavour House.

Part of the nearby elements of County Hall have been demolished and the sites redeveloped over the past few years.

But St Helen Court itself is a listed building - including many of its fixtures and fittings.

Proposals to turn the building into very sheltered accommodation for elderly people were approved a few years ago - but the economic crisis meant that the money was not available for an expensive construction project. A new use for the building is still being sought.

Until the early years of the 20th century St Helen Court was in front of the town's prison - a building that was pulled down and redeveloped as council before the Second World War.

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