Suspected arson attack destroys tennis clubhouse

AN ARSON attack destroyed Knebworth Tennis Club pavilion in the early hours of this morning (Friday).

The emergency services were called shortly before 2am to the blaze at the Knebworth Tennis Club pavilion on Watton Road in the village. The wooden building was described as “well alight” by the fire service on arrival.

Two crews took 20 minutes to put the fire out.

Police are treating the fire, which they believe started between 9.20pm on Thursday and 1.45am on Friday, as arson and an investigation has been launched.

Peter Gill, of Bell Close, Knebworth, who spotted the fire and called the emergency services, said there was nothing the fire crews could have done to save the building.

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“I was up late watching TV and I thought it was thunder. But when I looked out I could see exactly what it was. The whole building was alight from end to end. By the time the fire service got there and I showed them where to get in it was completely destroyed.”

He added: “The buiding has been targeted many times by vandals. But last night was far more serious.

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“Kids play up there and do their training. It’s sad when that sort of thing happens.”

Club secretary Phil Skone said players had been harassed by youths and the clubhouse attacked on previous occasions. “It’s an ongoing problem. There’s kids who are intent on causing trouble. It’s something which has been going on for years.

“The plan has been to fence off all the courts and move the hut inside to make it more secure. The parish council (who lease the site to the club) have not been at all helpful and put up ridiculous stipulations. If we had had that carried out we might not be in this situation.”

He added that the club, which has 120 senior and youth players, is making an insurance claim and hopes that a new fireproof building and fencing can be installed with the payout.

“It’s obviously very distressing for the members and especially those who have been members for a long time.

He said the club will press ahead with its summer fixtures, including its main tournament on July 16.

Parish council chairman John Bantick said arson had become a “fun” thing for youths to do, but tackling it is difficult.

“The problem is caused by youngsters just getting hold of whatever they can burn and burning it,” he said.

“A lot of the work on the recreation ground has been slowed down because the groundsman needs to get rid of piles of lopped branches. Kids have been picking it up and setting light to it.”

He added: “The police target he tennis court regularly, particularly in the evening and this is one of the things ongoing they are doing in the village. Apart from that there’s little that can be done at this moment.

“Plans are afoot for a full configuration of the fences. And the club can be built within these.”

He said a delay in building a new pavilion and fencing was due to a misunderstanding between the club and the parish council over whether lorries would be needed and associated damage to soft ground around the club during the winter.

“As far as we are concerned there’s no reason why they cannot proceed with it.”

Police are calling for witnesses who saw anyone acting suspiciously in the area, or knows who started the fire to contact them on 0845 330 0222 quoting crime reference G1/11/1770.

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