Church damaged in arson attack

A pastor has spoken of his sadness after a village church was severely damaged in a suspected arson attack that has left a newly-formed youth club without a base.

A pastor has spoken of his sadness after a village church was severely damaged in an arson attack that has left a newly-formed youth club without a base.

Scenes of crime officers and fire investigators spent hours on Tuesday gathering evidence after the devastating blaze which ripped through a school room and storage area at Carleton Rode Baptist Church, and threatened to engulf the main building.

The alarm was raised by a passer-by shortly after 10pm on Monday night, with eight fire crews battling to contain the blaze, using water from the church pond to help dowse the flames.

Heating oil contained in tanks, gardening equipment including a new ride on lawn mower, and all the youth club's possessions were destroyed in the inferno which badly damaged the Grade 11 listed church, due to celebrate its bi-centenary in 2012.

Rev Mark Taylor, pastor of Carleton Rode Baptist Church, only moved to the village last August, and his initial concern was for members of the congregation who were visibly distressed by what had happened.

'My sadness is that five weeks ago we began a youth club called 'The Loft' in the church and 40 of the village children attend this club. The place destroyed by fire is the very place that they meet every Friday.'

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'Not only has this fire caused a sense of pain and loss to the church community it has also put a temporary halt to a valued service for the wider village,' he said.

But, Mr Taylor is heartened by the support from the local community who have rallied around with offers of help.

He added: 'Some of the children who use The Loft were really upset, and one girl in particular put her arm around me and said: 'Pastor Mark, we are going to raise some money and get things going.' The feeling was we have had a set back but it's something we really value and enjoy.'

Rosedale Funeral Home has made a donation for the youth club, and various offers have been received regarding an alternative meeting place. Sunday's church service will be held in the village hall, as the main building is dirty, smells of smoke and currently has no electricity or toilet facilities.

Josie Jaggard's family has been involved with the church for generations, and she has been worshipper for 49 years.

'My reaction is one of shock that this could happen. But I told myself the building is not important, the church is the people and the fact that the building has been damaged will not hinder us moving forward,' she stressed.

Guy McCurley said: 'It was only the rapid intervention of Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service that prevented the whole building from being destroyed. This is a very special building in the local community, and I would appeal to anyone with information that may help our investigation to come forward and stop this kind of thing from happening again.'

Police spokesman Harry Mitchell confirmed that the fire is being treated as arson.

He said: 'Officers were at the scene yesterday and an investigation into this incident continues. We would like to hear from anyone who may have noticed anything suspicious in the area on Monday evening.'

Contact Norfolk police on 0845 456 4567, or anonymously by calling Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.

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