Police seek group of young people as arsonists blamed for Blurton club blaze
POLICE are hunting arsonists who started a huge blaze at a derelict club.
Officers want to speak to a group of young people seen going into the Old Mill Working Men's Club and Institute, in Blurton, shortly before it was gutted by fire.
More than 25 firefighters from Longton, Hanley, Newcastle and Cheadle spent hours tackling the flames on Monday night.
Neighbours were told to keep their doors and windows closed to protect themselves against harmful fumes, although many gathered to watch the drama unfold.
The building was so badly damaged it will have to demolished.
Fire investigation officers and police scenes of crime officers spent yesterday at the scene, and concluded the blaze was started deliberately.
Station Manager Rob Barber, from Staffordshire Fire and Rescue Service, said: "The building was well alight when we arrived and took around three-and-a-half hours to extinguish.
"We then had two appliances remain overnight monitoring hotspots and continuing to damp down so that a fire investigation could take place.
"We have carried out our investigations and have gathered enough evidence to support a conclusion that this fire was started deliberately.
"We will do everything in our power to help bring those responsible to justice. Arson is a serious crime, it endangers many lives and ties up emergency services for hours."
Residents living near the Sherbourne Close club were shocked by the intensity of the fire.
Trevor Richardson, aged 44, said: "I saw a lot of kids running, then I saw a police car.
"I had a proper look out of the window and saw massive flames.
"It was terrible. The firefighters were here all night, and they used so much water to put it out the road was flooded.
"We had to close our windows because they said there could be asbestos in there. It was still smouldering the next morning."
A 53-year-old neighbour, who did not want to be named, said: "I'm surprised this didn't happen a long time ago.
"It has been boarded up, broken into then boarded up again – it wasn't secure. A lot of teenagers hang around there."
Fire crews were called to the club at 8.35pm.
Police joined them to shut the road and cordon off the area.
Officers are now conducting house-to-house inquiries and checking CCTV footage.
Detective Inspector Steve Morrey said: "This was a large-scale fire which attracted a lot of attention from the local community.
"I would encourage anyone with information on the incident to contact us.
"We are keen to trace a group of young people who were seen to enter the premises at approximately 7.30pm.
"They subsequently left at some point prior to the fire.
"Disused and abandoned buildings pose many hidden dangers and as a result are not open to the public.
"I would encourage parents to reinforce this message to their children."
Anyone with information is asked to call 101 quoting incident number 797 of June 18, or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.