Did snobs bomb family's new home?

Class/ fire wrecks dream of better life
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The Independent Online
WAS it envy? Was it hatred? Why did someone break into a five- bedroomed Kent house in the dead of night, shower the rooms with petrol and drop a match, causing a devastating explosion that shattered a family's dreams of a better life?

The detective investigating the incident which razed a turn-of-the-century house to the ground in the early hours of Tuesday morning, just days before a family of 11 from the council estate down the road moved in, believes the motives were emotions familiar to neighbours in suburbia - snobbery and jealousy.

"I suspect it's the community class struggle that Mr and Mrs Nice person who live there don't want Mr and Mrs Nasty person with nine kids and a banger racer moving in next door," said Detective Inspector Kevin Turner.

The couple, who were due to take over the spacious house with their nine children and banger car, are John and Sue Chambers. The house had been found for them by the Broomleigh Housing Association.

But instead of moving to the house near the quiet village of Crockenhill, near Swanley, complete with a view across a valley which any estate agent would cherish, they will be staying in their home on Herne's Rise, a barren, rubble-strewn council estate in nearby St Mary Cray, from which they have been trying to escape for four years. "The root cause is jealousy'', said DI Turner. "Either people who jealously guard what they've got or people who are jealous Mr Chambers and his family have got themselves a nice house."

Mr Chambers also thinks envy could be behind the destruction of his new home. He told neighbours he was sure it was "someone from St Mary Cray who found out about the house and got jealous". For those living near the destroyed house, the felling means they will be spared the presence of the "problem family from The Rise", as one villager put it.

One shopkeeper, who refused to give his name for fear of reprisals, said he thought the explosion had been a "professional job".

"I wouldn't be surprised to find there were some big people involved here," he said. "It will be someone who is jealous of John. They've found out he's getting a nice big country house and they've got the hump, so they've torched the place."

Police are also looking into the possibility it could have been the work of someone holding a grudge against the housing association. But many still point the finger of blame at residents from Crockenhill, who were indignant at suggestions that one of them was responsible for the explosion.

"You'll find people here don't do things like that," said an elderly woman.

On one thing they all agree: they believe the incident is an indication of the deep class tensions which permeate the area.

The Rise is only two and three quarter miles from Crockenhill but it is a world apart. The once notorious council estate of 76 houses has all but been demolished to make way for a new 107-property estate.

The Chambers are the last family left, living in a house whose front wall was daubed in Mr Blobby yellow with pink spots by former neighbours.

A stream of grey drain water runs past the front gate, carrying with it a collection of household detritus from the remains of houses further up the hill.

To one side of the house is a battered Jaguar which Mr Chambers, a 35 year old self-employed mechanic, uses for stock-car racing while in the front garden, plants vie for space with children's toys and bits of machinery.

Not 300 yards away is a new, tidy estate with manicured lawns where young couples wash cars, compare their negative equities over low fences, and celebrate the demolition of Herne's Rise.

"They call it Beirut over there," said one man. "When all the families were there before they knocked it down it was terrible, things were getting nicked, cars being smashed and houses burnt out all the time.

"I'm not surprised the Chambers family wanted to move out, but I'm also not surprised that someone didn't want them moving in. Nine kids can make a lot of noise."

St Mary Cray, he said, had become a dumping ground for "all the people London's rough areas don't want".

"People get rehoused here and everyone is expected to get along with each other, even though they are from completely different backgrounds," he said. "There's rich people up at Crockenhill, poor people on the estate and us in the middle."

Broomleigh Housing Association denied reports that similar incidents had happened before.

"We own 14,000 homes and there's no history of this sort of thing whatsoever," said a spokeswoman for Broomleigh', Louise Moffatt. "Personally I don't think there's any truth in the theory that someone doing this because they have a grudge against Broomleigh."

DI Turner also rejected rumours circulating in the area that other arson attacks had happened to families who had been moved from the Herne's Rise estate.

Mr Chambers' brother-in-law John Fuller defended the family. "Just because they've got nine children people think they are a bad family, but they're not at all. The kids are good as gold," he said. "John is a nice bloke when you get to know him. He's never been in trouble with the police like some people have been saying.

"It's unbelievable that someone could do something like this. What if some of the kids had been in the house when it blew up, sleeping in there for a treat? Then whoever did it would have blood on their hands."

Last week, police investigating the explosion arrested three local men in connection with the blast. They have been released on bail and a fourth man is still being sought.

But Mr Chambers, meanwhile, is determined his family will not be driven from their new neighbourhood. He has told friends they will be moving in, even if it meant "putting a mobile home there if I have to".

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