Teenager bailed after school inferno

A TEENAGER was released on police bail last night after a suspected arson attack at a Suffolk high school caused hundreds of thousands of pounds of damage.

By Richard Smith

A TEENAGER was released on police bail last night after a suspected arson attack at a Suffolk high school caused hundreds of thousands of pounds of damage.

The 18-year-old was quizzed at Ipswich police station having been arrested in the wake of a fire at Copleston High School, Ipswich, late on Sunday night. Police officers were unable to say if he had any connections with the school, but he was later released on bail until October 5.

Teachers arriving there yesterday discovered a scene of devastation - but they pledged it would be open as normal on the first day of term, September 6, and they appealed to the community to help with the clear-up operation.

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Messages of support and condolences flooded in from the community, pupils, parents, governors, staff and former members of staff.

The blaze - which followed a smaller blaze earlier in the evening - was so severe that 100 firefighters were needed to tackle it.

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Ken Seager, assistant divisional fire officer, said: ''Nearly half of our available pumps were here at the peak of the fire.''

However, nearly all the main damage has been contained to a staff room, offices and a science lab and there is only minimal damage to some classrooms.

Police officers from the scenes of crime unit and fire investigation officers combed through the damage to find clues to the cause of the fire.

They will analyse data from the fire alarm system to establish how the fire spread through the old buildings.

Kate Lacey, director of corporate services at Copleston, said: ''This could have been enormously, enormously devastating to this area of Suffolk if it had not been for the fire service who kept the fire contained.

''We are absolutely devastated about what has happened, particularly as last week we were celebrating our best ever GCSE and A level results, and we were coming to the end of a hugely successful summer school.

''It will be business as usual and we will expect students on Wednesday, September 6. We understand that at the moment the classroom areas have relatively escaped.''

A lift has been damaged and she said an alternative means of access would be installed.

Peter Fisk, site manager, stood outside a brick clad steel framed building and analysed the damage. ''The staff room has gone, so have offices, a quiet marking room and a science lab. There are lots of suspended ceilings going down the corridor and they have been brought down,'' he said.

He said a PE teaching room, toilets and a drama studio were also damaged and an ominous large crack had appeared in a brick wall adjacent to the fire damage.

However, chemicals stored on site were kept to a minimum and they were not in this part of the school.

The gym, where a second, and much smaller fire was quickly extinguished, had escaped relatively unscathed.

''It needs a coat of paint, and varnish on the floor, so it's not that bad. The fire brigade has done an amazing job and it could have been so much worse for the school,'' said Mr Fisk.

Alan Cadzow, area director of children and young people's services, said: ''It has been a very traumatic incident. The damage is terrible but nobody has been hurt which is the most important thing.''

David Scarlett, caretaker, lives next to the 1,800-pupil school and he was one of the first people to see the blaze. He was busy yesterday helping out in the aftermath of the fire.

Matthew Rose, an inspector with Suffolk police, said: ''We are treating the incident as arson unless we get any information to the contrary.''

Suffolk fire service started receiving emergency calls from the public soon after 11pm on Sunday. Two fire engines were sent and reinforcements were quickly drafted in when the scale of the blaze became obvious.

The fire had been burning for some time before it was first noticed. The school does not have water sprinklers and the automatic fire sensors are not linked to fire control. There is a drive nationally to introduce sprinklers into schools to reduce damage caused by arson attacks.

Mr Seager said: ''In Suffolk it is quite a while since we have had a significant fire in a school. We are keeping an open mind about the cause.

''But two fires in one night on one property in such a short time leads us to think it may have been suspicious. There is extreme damage to the first floor of the staff room and virtually everything combustible in that area has gone and the roof has collapsed.'' Fire doors in corridors helped to prevent the flames spreading.

Anyone with video footage of the fire taken before fire crews arrived is asked to call the fire service on

01473 588888. Anyone with information that could help police inquiries is asked to call Det Sgt John Dolan, Ipswich CID, on 01473 613500.

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