Dunston Staiths fire: Historic timber landmark in Tyneside devastated by blaze after suspected arson attack

Flames rip through 19th-century, Grade II-listed structure causing hundreds of thousands of pounds of damage

Colin Drury
Saturday 16 May 2020 21:00
Fire at Dunston Staiths in Gateshead
Fire at Dunston Staiths in Gateshead

A fire which has partially destroyed a 19th-century north-east England landmark – thought to be Europe’s largest timber structure – is being investigated as arson, police have said.

The blaze ripped through the Grade II listed Dunston Staiths, in Gateshead, from 2.30am on Saturday morning.

The mammoth bridge-like structure was originally built in 1893 so coal dug from the area's mines could be dropped direct from trains onto ships on the River Tyne, and has become a much-loved visitor attraction since a restoration 30 years ago.

But the fire comes after months of fundraising to repair and renovate the structure following a previous blaze last year.

It is thought the new damage will cost hundreds of thousands of pounds to fix.

Detective Inspector Andy Gimza, of Northumbria Police, said: “We're treating this as a deliberate act of vandalism, so a criminal investigation has been launched.

"If you saw anyone suspicious in the area of the Staiths late Friday night or early Saturday morning, please get in touch."

Speaking at the scene, Andrew Smith, of the Friends of the Staiths group, said he had spent the night watching as fire crews worked to put the blaze out.

He added: "Initially I was really angry because we put so much time and effort in as a group, having had to fundraise after a previous attempt.

"But after watching the fire crews, me and another volunteer didn't say anything, I was just numb.

"After seeing the sunrise, and it was so beautiful, I started to think - we'll deal with this, one step at a time."

The Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service tweeted pictures from the scene overnight and said: "As you can see from these photos, the fire at Dunston Staiths was extremely serious.

"Put simply, deliberate fires put people at risk.”

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