UPDATE: Arson ‘not ruled out’ in cement works fire investigation

Officers are not ruling out arson, according to Sussex Police
Officers are not ruling out arson, according to Sussex Police

Officers investigating a large fire which broke out at the old Shoreham Cement Works on Sunday morning are not ruling out arson, according to Sussex Police.

During the early hours of Sunday (September 24), Sussex Police was alerted to a large fire which had started at the former cement works in Shoreham Road, Steyning.

Nineteen coaches were destroyed in the blaze

Nineteen coaches were destroyed in the blaze

A Sussex Police spokesman said: “Initial signs were that the fire had started close to one of several Ace Travel coaches stored on site which quickly spread to adjacent vehicles.

“This resulted in the total loss of 19 coaches and destruction of two empty buildings.

“There were no reports of any injuries.”

Sussex Police and West Sussex Fire and Rescue Service investigators are working closely to establish the cause of the fire.

Detective Sergeant Christine Holyoake said: “We are interested to hear from anyone who may have seen or heard anything suspicious, or who may have other information concerning the fire.”

A spokesman for Ace Travel has confirmed the coaches damaged were owned by the company but decline to comment further.

A number of the affected damaged coaches were previously used to transport students to and from school.

Organising replacement services, a West Sussex County Council spokesperson said: “The county council is working with both Ace Travel, which lost its fleet in the fire at the weekend, and four other operators – Metrobus, Compass Travel, Heritage Coaches and Brightonian Coaches – who are helping Ace Travel to get children to and from school today.

“Parents have also played a vital part in making this work and we would like to thank all concerned.

“The fire has had most impact on transport arrangements for Steyning Grammar School pupils, with about seven coach and bus services affected. However, despite this, only one pupil has been unable to attend school this morning due to the transport issues.

“We are working closely with the school and Ace Travel to prioritise the routes most affected by the blaze.”

A statement on Steyning Grammar School’s website added: “We have received confirmation that the 733 will be run in the morning by Metrobus – we await confirmation re the afternoon run – however, Ace Travel have confirmed that they will return to the school to collect students if required to ensure they get home.”

Jenny Passmore, of Church Farm in Coombes, said she woke up to ‘loud bangs and explosion noises’ just after the fire broke out.

She said: “We didn’t know what it was like everybody else. Going out the house we then saw the fire.

“It was incredible – it looked like the whole of the cement works was going up.

“The whole of Coombes was awake and watching it – we knew it was buses as we heard from other people.”

Witnesses are asked to contact police online (www.sussex.police.uk/rtcappealresponse) or call 101 quoting serial 198 of 24/09.