Police appeal for witnesses after suspected "lethal" arson attack on van in Ernesettle
POLICE have released pictures showing the aftermath of a potentially lethal van fire which could have blasted metal up to 200 metres.
Detectives are treating the matter as arson and say they want to hear from anyone who may have seen a road traffic collision in the area prior to the van catching fire.
As The Herald reported yesterday, firefighters and police were called to Rochford Crescent, in Ernesettle, at around 11pm on Sunday after reports of a large explosion.
Fire crews put their lives at risk getting within yards of the blazing van which contained two 20kg butane gas cylinders.
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Investigators now believe one or both of the canisters, used for heating roofing tar, had been opened to enable gas to escape.
Fire investigators say if the canisters exploded there would have been a blast radius of up to 200 metres. Police say petrol had been poured into the rear of the vehicle and the initial explosion blew out all of its windows.
The vehicle was fewer than 10 metres from a row of terraced homes at the time and police said it showed signs of being involved in a road traffic collision.
Detective Constable Zara Payne, who is heading the investigation, said: "We believe this van that was later set alight may have been involved in an road traffic collision around the junction of Biggin Hill and Budshead Road, sometime in the early evening, possibly between 5pm and 7pm on Sunday.
"We know from witnesses that the van was seen to park at around 8pm to 8.15pm.
"Did you see the van arrive. What did driver look like? Were they picked up by someone? Do you recall seeing something shortly before 11pm, before the van was alight? Did you see someone or more than one person or a particular vehicle nearby, leaving the area immediately before the fire?
"This was an extremely thoughtless act with potentially fatal consequences and I want to appeal to local residents with any information, no matter how insignificant they feel it may be, to contact me on 101, or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555111 quoting reference EL/13/870."
Two men – a 24-year-old from Whitleigh and a 54-year-old from Stoke – have been arrested in connection with the incident. Both have been released on police bail until June 12 pending further enquiries.