Steyning business targeted twice by arson attacks

Photographed last week after the first attack - Nick Hempleman, owner of Sussex Produce, Richard Shakespeare, head chef, and Jerome Petit, front of house manager

Photographed last week after the first attack - Nick Hempleman, owner of Sussex Produce, Richard Shakespeare, head chef, and Jerome Petit, front of house manager

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A VICTIM of arson has suffered another attack as police continued to investigate the spate of ‘mayhem’ in Steyning.

Vans outside Nick Hempleman’s award-winning Sussex Produce shop in the High Street have been destroyed by the deliberate blaze ignited early this morning (Wednesday February 29).

Only last week the County Times reported how Mr Hempleman’s vehicles and shop escaped devastation when a commercial bin was set alight and pushed between the two vans.

“It was only through the diligence and bravery of the staff that utter disaster was averted,” he said last week.

“A member of staff saw flames from the upstairs window and alerted other staff.

“The front of house manager leapt into action and pushed the lighted bin away from our vans and then the head chef used a fire extinguisher to deal with the flames.

“Literally no more than two or three minutes later and £50,000 would have gone up in flames.”

However, 50 per cent of both vans were damaged in the attack just after 5.30am.

Emergency services are currently at the scene investigating the incident.

Two local men were arrested and bailed last week following the attacks which has seen nearly 20 targets set alight since November last year.

These include the recent fire started in the porch of a family home in Mill Road. A couple and their child were woken at 3.20am by the sound of a smoke alarm.

They discovered the fire, where umbrellas and walking sticks had been set alight, and quickly brought the flames under control themselves.

Mr Hempleman told the County Times that despite the attacks ‘it should be business as usual’ in Steyning, although ‘there is a wartime sense of solidarity’ in this spate of ‘mayhem’.

Steyning fire service watch manager Danny Flynn said last week the crew were being ‘run ragged’ by whoever was responsible.

The firefighter, who is a retained officer on 24-hour call while balancing a day job, said: “I’m exhausted, we’ve been run ragged. We’ve literally been getting back to the station, washing our equipment and then getting another call.”

Ian Ivatt, chairman of the Steyning Chamber of Trade, warned businesses not the give anyone the opportunity ‘to do something stupid.

He said: “What I’m concerned about is making sure our members or anyone in the High Street doesn’t leave stuff out that can be set alight.”

However, police say they are ‘keeping an open mind’ as to whether this attack is linked to the spate.

Detective Sergeant Chris Leech of West Sussex CID said: “We are currently investigating the cause of the fire and would like to hear from anyone who may have seen or heard anything suspicious.

“We are keeping an open mind about the motive behind the fire and are considering whether this is linked to other recent fires in Steyning or whether it is a targeted incident.

“Extra uniformed police officers will be patrolling the village at all hours to speak to residents and monitor any further suspicious activity. I would encourage any residents with concerns or questions to speak to the officers.”

Anyone with information is asked to contact Sussex Police on 101 quoting serial 143 of 29/02/12 or the independent charity Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.