No charges over pier arson

Hastings pier alight
Hastings pier alight

TWO teenagers arrested over the blaze which destroyed Hastings Pier have been released without charged - despite police finding evidence they were both on the pier when the fire started.

The 19-year-olds, both from St Leonards, were seized on the seafront as the fire ravaged the Victorian attraction – destroying an estimated 95 per cent of its top side. But, despite interviewing more than 40 people over six months, the teenagers kept having their bail extended.

And yesterday (Thursday) the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) revealed that no charges would be brought against the pair. This increases the likelihood that nobody will ever stand trial for the fire and that the pier arson will join a long list of unsolved high profile crimes in Hastings. Explaining the CPS’s decision, Tim Thompson said the case had been painstakingly reviewed but that it had been difficult to mount a case against each of the suspects.

The CPS spokesman said: “There is evidence to place both suspects, as trespassers, on the pier at the time and there is evidence that a fire started through some human act at the time they were on the pier.

“We are left in the position where we cannot show how the fire was started and cannot show that the human act must have been a criminal act.

“We cannot show that there was or must have been any kind of joint plan. We have no admissible evidence to show which of the two suspects might have been responsible.

“We cannot prosecute on the basis that one or other of the two suspects might have been responsible; we can only prosecute where there is enough evidence against an individual.

“The decision has been taken on the evidence and information available to us. If new information comes to light the case will be reconsidered.”

And, despite the defensive nature of the explanation, Mr Thompson did admit there was a sense of regret at the CPS that nobody would be charged over the fire.

“I appreciate there will be concern that no one is being prosecuted,” he said. “It is disappointing that we are not able to mount a prosecution in a case that is of considerable local interest but it is our responsibility to only bring prosecutions where there is sufficient evidence for a realistic prospect of conviction.”

Hastings Police appeared to distance themselves from the decision by refusing to add additional comments on the decision and the reaction locally is likely to be one of anger.

The Observer had already been inundated by calls and letters from readers demanding to know why there had been such a hold-up in proceedings.

And Ray Chapman, chairman of the Hastings Pier and White Rock Trust, said the new was frustrating.

He said: “I am disappointed that it seems nobody will be held to account.

“I think a lot of local people will be upset because this issue could have provided a sense of closure for the town.”