Photo Credit: Hitchin Fire Station / Hertfordshire Fire and Rescue Service via Twitter
Investigators have ruled out arson as the cause of a fire which severely damaged the Church of England’s parish Church in Royston, Hertfordshire last December. Since the fire, the congregation of St John the Baptist Church have been supported by a number of local organisations and have been holding services in a number of locations, including Royston Town Hall, the town’s Methodist Church and the local Greneway School. Last month, Hertfordshire Constabulary said that a joint investigation with the county’s Fire and Rescue Service had concluded that the blaze, which destroyed part of the roof and bell tower, was not arson.
Early indications suggested that the fire might have been started deliberately or as the result of thieves stealing lead from the church roof, the police said, adding that as the investigation continued it became apparent that this was not the case.
“Every possible line of enquiry has been followed. All initial aspects of this incident which supported the idea of third party involvement, have been investigated and ruled out”, Detective Constable Mike Hardiman said. “No lead had been taken, no equipment used by a would-be suspect was found and there were no tyre marks or foot prints found in the immediate area.
“I know that at the time there was great concern within the local community that the church had been deliberately targeted and this was very upsetting, particularly as it was in the run up to Christmas. As the investigation progressed it became apparent that much of the initial evidence that suggested criminal behaviour could actually be accounted for and the incident was deemed as non-suspicious.
“We take all possible cases of heritage crime very seriously and it was appropriate that we carried out a thorough investigation, appealed for potential witnesses and ruled out all possibilities.”
The local Neighbourhood Police Inspector, Richard Lilley, added: “The fire had a big impact on the local community and we are still working closely with the clergy whilst the church is repaired. We have provided both meeting facilities and storage space to enable the church to function as effectively as possible.”
The church has launched an online fundraising appeal to enable them to use the opportunity “to update and refurbish [the building] ready for the years ahead.”
Earlier this month the total donated stood at £26,000 GBP. “This demonstrates the amazing generosity from the people of Royston and beyond”, the church said on its website. “Royston Parish Church is a focal point for the whole community of Royston. . . Although the insurance will cover much of the work it will not be sufficient to cover all of the improvements that the church really needs in order to serve the community in the 21st century and beyond.
“We all want a beautiful building where everyone can be made very welcome and which can be used in a variety of ways for the benefit of the community.”