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Eastbourne Pier fire may have been arson attack, say police

The fire destroyed the dome of the Victorian pier

A fire which destroyed a dome-shaped amusement arcade on the 144-year-old Eastbourne Pier may have been an arson attack, according to police.

It was initially suspected that an electrical fault caused the blaze on the Grade II listed Victorian monument in East Sussex, but detectives said they are now treating the fire as “suspicious”.

No one was injured in Wednesday's fire, which destroyed about a third of the 1,000 foot-long (300 meter-long) structure, leaving only its metal frame intact.

Detective Inspector Mark O'Brien, of Sussex Police, said: "As a result of our investigation we have received information to suggest that the fire may have been started by someone, either deliberately or accidentally, and our investigation is now focusing on that line of enquiry.

"A temporary scaffold platform has been erected adjacent to where the fire is thought to have broken out in order to enable scenes of crime officers and fire investigators safe access to the area," he added.

On Friday, the Prime Minister David Cameron announced that Eastbourne Borough Council will be given up to £2 million to help the resort recover from the closure of the attraction at the height of the all-important summer tourist season.

The National Piers Society applauded the cash awarded to Eastbourne.

It said: “The National Piers Society welcomes the Government's pledge to help restore the magnificent pier at Eastbourne and to help other coastal towns which rely on tourism to support their economies.”

Both the Prime Minister and Chancellor George Osborne visited the site on Friday, where they met firefighters and RNLI lifeboat crews who helped save two-thirds of the attraction.

Mr Cameron said: “I know that the loss of one of Eastbourne's most prominent and well-loved landmarks will have hit the town hard and I am determined to do all I can to help local businesses recover.”

The Prime Minister added that the pier was insured and its owners - Cuerden Leisure - were committed to rebuilding it.

Mr Osborne said: “We will work with Eastbourne as a matter of urgency to ensure that the funding is provided without delay so people can start enjoying the pier again.”

Eastbourne MP Stephen Lloyd has said the pier could reopen next year as the structure appeared “pretty sound”.

The devastation at Eastbourne Pier comes after the 148-year-old West Pier in Brighton was reduced to a charred mass of metal by two major blazes within two months in 2003.

And in Eastbourne's neighbouring town of Hastings, the Grade II-listed pier was almost destroyed in a fire in 2010 following years of neglect by its then-Panama-registered owner.

Efforts are now well under way to restoring Hastings Pier after more than £13 million was secured mainly though the Heritage Lottery Fund.

Additional reporting by AP