Teenagers held after fire-bomb attacks on schools and shops: Firefighters call in reinforcements as arsonists cause pounds 500,000 damage in 13 incidents near fire stations during three-hour spree

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The Independent Online
FOUR teenagers were being questioned by police last night after 13 arson attacks were made within three hours on schools, shops and vehicles on the outskirts of Stockport, Greater Manchester.

The teenagers were taken to Stockport police station after the pattern of fire-bombings along a five-mile arc suggested a planned attempt to stretch the fire service. Damage was estimated at pounds 500,000.

Most of the attacks took place close to fire stations. The Greater Manchester service had to call reinforcements from Cheshire as 200 firefighters and 30 appliances dealt with a total of 14 incidents.

One primary school and a florist's shop were gutted. Police said the only injuries were incurred by a boy who tried to pick up a petrol bomb he had thrown. It set fire to his clothing, and may have inflicted burns.

Fire service sources said targets appeared to have been chosen for proximity to fire stations. 'It's as if they wanted to make sure as many firefighters and appliances as possible would be involved,' an officer investigating the fire at Dial Park primary school said. The school has been closed and may have to be demolished. Pet gerbils and fish died in the fire, the second in the series begun with petrol bombs.

In the first incident, two bombs were thrown in Magda Road, Offerton, at 9.53pm on Sunday; 14 minutes later, the school - about 100 yards away - was destroyed. At 10.09pm, two classrooms at a further education centre were wrecked, followed by an attack at 10.17pm which damaged a classroom at Offerton Hall primary school.

Residents on the Offerton estate said both schools had suffered only occasional, minor vandalism. Three teenagers had been seen near Dial Park school, but it was too dark for neighbours to identify them.

The schools and college serve an area of mixed housing, with no serious problems of deprivation. The shopping centre and other public areas bear few graffiti; a Roman Catholic primary school close to Offerton Hall school had not been attacked. Less than two miles away in Castle Street, Edgeley, a cafe and two shops were attacked; a florist's shop was destroyed.

At 10.43pm, three cars were fire bombed in the Bredbury district, followed during the next 25 minutes by attacks which caused minor damage to Maycroft, Castle Hill and Tame Valley schools in the Brinnington area.

The arsonists are thought to have returned by 11.29pm to Castle Street, where a furnishings store suffered slight damage; a classroom at nearby Avondale school was damaged at 12.47am.

Police say a 14th attack may be linked to the sequence of fires. At 6.30am yesterday one room at an adult education centre in Offerton was slightly damaged by fire.

Damage from the fires is estimated at pounds 500,000, Stockport eduction authority said, although the final cost may be greater if structural damage to Dial Park school cannot easily be repaired.

All 250 Dial Park pupils will resume classes at the adult education centre by Thursday; tomorrow's outing to Colwyn Bay, North Wales, for 60 pupils will go ahead.

(Photograph omitted)