Police are treating a fire that struck a church in Royston in the ealy hours of this morning (December 9) as arson.
The fire at St John the Baptist Church in Melbourn Street is thought to have started around 3.30am and there are reports of ten fire engines rushing to the scene.
An eyewitness described seeing a “great big orange blaze” around 4am – and said parts of the church’s roof have collapsed as a result of the fire.
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Police appeal for witnesses
Police are asking anyone who saw anything suspicious around 3.45am, the time the fire started, or knows anything about the fire, to get in touch.
They have also confirmed that no-one was injured in the blaze.
Detective Inspector Jason Keane said: “Understandably, this incident has caused a great deal of upset in the local community.
“Our investigations are continuing alongside our colleagues at Hertfordshire Fire and Rescue Service but we are treating the incident as suspicious.
“I am appealing for anyone with information about the fire, or events leading up to it, to please come forward. Did you witness any suspicious activity in the area or around the church itself? Any information could greatly assist our enquiries.”
Anyone with information should contact the non-emergency number 101, quoting ISR 143 of December 9. You can also report information online at www.herts.police.uk/Report.
Alternatively, you can contact the independent crime-fighting charity Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111 or through their Anonymous Online Form at www.crimestoppers-uk.org. No personal details are taken, information cannot be traced or recorded and you will never need to go to court.
More pictures from the scene this morning
MP thanks emergency services
Fire crews are beginning to leave the scene
Members of the church respond to arson news
Members of the church have responded to the news that police are treating the fire as arson.
Linda Dwight said: “It is all terribly tragic and sad but for me it makes it all the more sadder that this has been intentional. It just puts a different aspect on things. But it has lifted me, the fact that it’s not anybody’s fault in the church.”
Kay Makowiecki said: “My immediate reaction on hearing about the fire this morning was I feared that it might be arson. I had no reason to believe it was, one way or another, but that was my great fear.
“[I am] devastated in as much as it has happened but perhaps maybe it’s better that it was that, horrible as it was, rather than a human error in the church. If it had been caused by someone leaving a light on, leaving a fire on, that person would never forgive themselves. So the fact that it was arson, as horrible as it is, it’s a relief that it wasn’t caused by negligence.”
Police are treating the fire as arson
A spokeswoman for Hertfordshire police said: “The incident is now being treated as arson at this time.
“Investigations are continuing.”
More members of the church community speak out after the incident
Linda Dwight, 69, pensioner said: “We don’t know what damage has been done to the church and I was thinking about the organ. We are going to put on a war time spirit and all pull together.”
Rosemary Burt, 69, said: “There was supposed to be our Christmas carol service next Sunday, the choir had been practising and now it might not go ahead.”
Emergency services expected to be at scene for hours
A spokeswoman for Hertfordshire police said: “Police were called at 3.47am today (Sunday) by the fire service to reports of a fire at St John The Baptist Church in Melbourn Road, Royston. Officers are assisting with road closures, including the High Street, while firefighters deal with the incident.
“Emergency services are expected to be at the scene for many hours and we’re advising people to avoid the area.”
The Bishop of St Albans says Christmas services will go ahead
The Bishop of St Albans Alan Smith travelled to Royston this morning after the news.
He said: “We’re obviously terribly sad. It’s always sad when a beloved building at the heart of a community has been damaged like this. Of course what you have to remember is the living church of Jesus Christ will still be here and we will be meeting and worshipping over the coming weeks. But we want to get this building – when we’ve got over the shock and assessed it – we of course want to get it repaired and back into service being right at the heart of the community.”
He said he didn’t yet have any information about how the fire started.
He continued: “Obviously there are services every Sunday, and the morning service can’t happen this morning simply because the building is totally out of action – it’s still surrounded by fire engines. But as soon as we can, services will be back organised. Whether they’re going to be in the town hall or a school or another church or something we’re not quite sure, but there will be services, there will be carol services and there will be the celebration of Christmas.”
Churchgoer says she was “heartbroken”
A woman who did not wish to be named said she had been planning on attending church this morning until she heard the news.
She said: “When my daughter told me I just could not believe it. She said: ‘You’re not going to church’, I said: ‘I am’. I’m just heartbroken, absolutely heartbroken.”
“My wife and I were absolutely devastated”
Anthony Smith, 58, a bank manager from Royston, said his friend sent him a picture of the church on fire and the roof and fire all in flames at around 3am.
He said: “My wife and I were absolutely devastated. It’s such a shame – it’s a beautiful building and it looks like it’s pretty much destroyed.”
What the scene looks like now
Video from the scene
Reece Wilkinson took this video earlier this morning.
Police are also at the scene helping with road closures
Council say they are tackling the blaze
What the fire service are saying
Chloe Hector, 19, lives behind the church and arrived home after an event around 4am, when she said firefighters had already been there half an hour.
“It was almost foggy, but you could tell it was smoke because it was so thick,” she said. “I have got asthma and I could feel it. It was just this great big orange blaze.”
She said she offered the firefighters access to the back of the church from her home, and brought them out Hobnob biscuits and water.
But she had to stay awake through the night in case her family needed to be evacuated from their home.
“It’s one of those things, when it’s happening, there’s no way you can sleep,” she said.
And from her window she said she could see that part of the church’s roof had collapsed.
More pictures from the scene
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