Hastings pier blaze quiz teenagers bailed

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The Independent Online

Two teenagers being quizzed after a suspected arson attack on a landmark Victoria pier were released on bail by police today.

Up to 95% of Hastings pier was destroyed as emergency services struggled to get the blaze under control in the early hours of yesterday.

A Sussex Police spokeswoman said: "An 18-year-old man and a 19-year-old man, both from St Leonards, were arrested shortly after the incident on the seafront in the early hours of Tuesday, 5 October.

"They have been bailed until Tuesday, 2 November."

The alarm was raised at around 1am by a member of the public who told two patrolling police officers that the pier, which has been closed since 2006, was alight.

At its height around 55 firefighters with eight engines were trying to extinguish the blaze, East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service said.

The crews were transported by local RNLI lifeboats to attempt to fight the fire from the sea as the pier itself was too unstable to go on to, and they were also hampered by bad weather blowing the flames towards the town.

There were no reports of any injuries.

A fire service spokeswoman said just one crew remained damping down at the scene today.

Campaigners who had been battling to restore the derelict pier to its former glory have vowed not to give up hope that what remains of it may still be salvaged.

Members of Hastings Pier and White Rock Trust were yesterday tied up in a series of meetings with Hastings Borough Council and emergency services to discuss plans to get a survey under way.

Trust treasurer Jess Steele said: "This tragedy has further galvanised public support for securing the future of this much-loved pier.

"If the survey shows that the substructure is reusable we will do our utmost to bring this great asset back to life."

Council leader Jeremy Birch said he had "no idea" whether the pier was insured as its "totally absentee owner", the Panamanian-registered Ravenclaw, had not been in touch for a number of years.

The council was in the process of taking over the pier in a compulsory purchase following pressure from the trust and after a study this summer showed it could be made safe for £3 million.

The trust then wanted to gain control over the future of the structure and apply for funding as a charity with the aim of refurbishing it with modern attractions.

Mr Birch said: "It's in the hearts of Hastings people. It's a building that everybody knows; it's on every postcard."

Designed by Eugenius Birch, Hastings pier opened in 1872 and was originally 910ft long.

It is the latest of a string of historic piers to be hit by fire.

In July 2008, Weston-super-Mare pier was destroyed, while Brighton, on the East Sussex coast, experienced a devastating year in 2003 with its ill-fated West Pier suffering two major blazes within two months after parts of it had already crumbled into the sea.

The police spokeswoman added of the Hastings blaze: "The investigation is ongoing and anyone who may have information is asked to contact Sussex Police on 0845 60 70 999, quoting Operation Kingmaker, or anonymously, to the independent charity Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.