Preston firebug attacks: 999 services step up security in city centre

Empty buildings in Preston city centre are being given extra protection after a spate of arson attacks in the past month.

By Brian Ellis
Friday, 10th June 2022, 1:33 pm

Fire chiefs are working with owners of at-risk properties to increase security amid fears that fire bugs could strike again.

Four serious incidents in as many weeks have put emergency services on high alert.

Police say they are still investigating the two attacks on the former Odeon Cinema and nightclub in Church Street, the old St Joseph's Orphanage and hospital in Mount Street and the empty British Home Stores building on Fishergate.

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Firefighters tackle the inferno at Preston's former Odeon Cinema.

And Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service says its incident intelligence officers are helping detectives to identify those responsible for the wave of attacks which have caused damage estimated at more than £1m.

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Three boys - two aged 14 and one aged 16 - were detained on suspicion of starting the blaze which destroyed the Odeon building on Thursday May 19. They have since been released pending further investigations.

Police admit there have been no further arrests in that case, or the three other incidents.

Demolition goes on at the former St Joseph's Orphanage after the blaze

All the buildings targeted have been empty for years. Two have since had to be demolished due to safety fears after the devastation caused by the fires.

The arson attacks have also affected businesses close by, with the second Odeon blaze preventing some bars and shops from opening for several days.

A fire brigade spokesman said: "The significant fires at the old orphanage, the old Odeon cinema and in Fishergate (BHS) in recent weeks are now subject to separate joint police and fire investigations as we believe they have been started deliberately.

“We are working with the local authorities to identify buildings that may be at risk from arson and we will work with the building owners to help them protect their properties.

The former BHS store in Fishergate was the latest target of the arsonists.

“Entering derelict buildings can be dangerous; there may be hidden hazards like the structure of the building being unsafe.

"When introducing the element of fire, this brings further risks which can not only put the people inside in danger, but also those outside or in neighbouring properties.”

The first attack came on the evening of Friday May 13 at the derelict St Joseph's Orphanage and its adjacent Mount Street Hospital.

A blaze was started on the third floor of a building which was already described as a "death trap" due to its dangerous state after years of neglect.

The blaze which started it all - St Joseph's Orphanage.

Eight fire engines and two aerial ladder platforms (ALPs) took around four hours to put out the blaze.

The following afternoon crews were in the city centre again, this time putting out a fire inside the former Odeon Cinema.

Again it was started on the third floor after the arsonists managed to break into the property, which used to house the Top Rank ballroom, later Clouds and Tokyo Jo's.

Five days later the Odeon was attacked again in the early evening, with the blaze consuming the whole of the building and leading to road closures around the Church Street site for several days.

And then in the early hours of Sunday June 5 four fire crews raced to the rear of the former BHS store where intruders had started a blaze in the loading bays.

Anyone who sees anything suspicious is advised to contact police on 101.

The devastating aftermath of the second Odeon blaze.