Fear that riots have spread to Stevenage after triple arson attack

Vehicles were set ablaze in Stevenage last night, with residents fearing the spread of inner-city violence to the town and police reacting to events by stepping up patrols.

Three vehicles were burning in Bedwell within half an hour last night causing thousands of pounds worth of damage and forcing residents to flee their homes.

The emergency services received the first call minutes after midnight to Badgers Close where a Peugeot 106 was well alight in a driveway. A Stevenage fire crew raced to the scene alongside police.

At 12.10am another emergency call came through reporting a Honda Accord on fire in nearby Bedwell Crescent. A second Stevenage fire engine was scrambled to the blaze.

A third call came in just after 12.30am to a Renault van on fire in Exchange Road. Two crews from Stevenage and two from Hitchin tackled the flames.

No-one was hurt in the attacks which are being linked and treated as arson by the police.

Paul Ayers, of PJA plumbing and building, whose destroyed van was parked outside his parents’ garage, said his mum and dad were woken at around 1am by police banging on the door, and were evacuated along with the neighbours.

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The 35-year-old said: “They had to get everyone out of the houses because it was so close. Mum and dad are both pretty shaken up. They obviously didn’t know what was going on. You don’t expect it round here.

“I think they smashed the window (of the van) by the looks of it and threw petrol inside. It started setting fire to the garage. The fire brigade had to put a hole in the roof of the garage and fill it with water.”

Mr Ayers said the damage to the van, his stock and the garage will amount to around �15,000 at a time when money is tight.

“It’s not good. It’s the knock on effect – the damage and the cost. One of our vans was petrol bombed due to the riots around the country and it has now put a man out of work as he has no van to use.

“My wife had a message on Facebook of rumours of violence – it just incites it. These idiots who think they can start riots. The police are running round but they can’t be everywhere.”

A neighbour, who did not want to be named, who lives opposite the garage where the van was attacked, said the damage could have been much worse.

“Next to the garage next to the one that was on fire is a house. When you look at the potential damage afterwards - the whole block could have gone up.”

Stevenage police questioned officers in the area and investigations are continuing.

The force said “in light of recent events” they had stepped up patrols in the town, and were speaking to community leaders and open to questions from concerned residents.

Officers urged anyone who has any information about the fires in Bedwell to call the non-emergency number, 101.

A spokesman for Herts Police said there was no evidence that the arson attacks were linked to the rioting in London and elsewhere.