SECURITY is set to be stepped up after intruders deliberately started fires at the boarded-up former Christchurch police station and old magistrates’ court twice in as many days.
Firefighters from several stations had to battle the flames each time at the site between Bargates and Barrack Road, which is set to host a major redevelopment comprising 169 new homes.
Responding to reports of smoke in the area at around 7.15pm on Sunday, a local crew called for reinforcements after finding it was billowing from one of the disused buildings.
More help from colleagues at New Milton, Springbourne, Redhill, Hamworthy and Westbourne was dispatched as the structure was found to be well alight.
Concerns rough sleepers were inside prompted a thorough search of the building, but a Dorset and Wiltshire Fire and Rescue Service spokesperson said all were accounted for.
Using breathing apparatus, the firefighters spent around 75 minutes tackling the flames which were tearing through the building’s ground floor.
The spokesperson said: “On arrival, firefighters found multiple seats of fire on the ground floor, which are believed to have been set deliberately.”
A Dorset Police spokesperson confirmed officers were called to the scene shortly before 7.30pm by the fire service but said the blaze was not being treated as suspicious.
The second call-out came shortly after 8.30am on Tuesday morning, with six crews responding, including Christchurch, Springbourne, Redhill Park, Westbourne and Ferndown. They were aided by an aerial ladder appliance from Westbourne and a support unit from Hamworthy.
Again, there were concerns rough sleepers might be inside and 12 firefighters in breathing apparatus entered the smoke-filled building to carry out a thorough search. As before, a Dorset and Wiltshire Fire and Rescue Service spokesperson confirmed everyone was accounted for.
No details were available as to the amount of damage caused, but the spokesperson said that, like Sunday night, Tuesday’s incident was caused by the deliberate lighting of fires. This was also not classed as suspicious.
In the five years since its closure in 2015, the old police station building has been a magnet for Travellers who regularly set up camp there, and vandals.
The site, which is currently still in the ownership of Dorset Council and Dorset Police, will soon be taken over by housing developer Aster Group. This comes after its major redevelopment scheme was given the go-ahead by BCP Council in February.
As well as the 169 homes, the site is set to host a retail and community space including a science museum and ‘hub’ which local groups and organisations can make use of.
In the meantime, a Dorset Council spokesperson told the A&T it was looking into measures that can be taken to ensure there is no repeat of Sunday and Tuesday’s incidents.
“The site is owned by Dorset Council and Dorset Police and contracts have been exchanged on the sale of the site subject to receipt of a satisfactory planning consent for redevelopment,” the spokesperson said.
“Dorset Council are asking their contractor to erect hoarding and boarding at the site following the intrusion and fire. And we have been in discussion with Dorset Police about increasing patrols in the area.”