Eastbourne Pier blaze: Arson probe launched by police

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Media captionPolice have asked members of the public for pictures and videos of the pier before the fire broke out, as Piers Hopkirk reports

A fire that ripped through Eastbourne Pier is now feared to have been started deliberately.

The blaze on Wednesday afternoon destroyed about a third of the 1,000ft (300m) long structure.

Sussex Police said the force had received information suggesting the fire was started by someone "either deliberately or accidently".

The BBC understands there is "clear evidence" the fire was sparked in an arson attack.

At its height, up to 80 firefighters, together with RNLI crews, tackled the blaze on the 144-year-old, Grade II-listed pier.

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Media captionDavid Cameron praises the "incredible bravery" of the emergency services

Det Insp 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... and our investigation is now focusing on that line of inquiry."

He said a temporary platform had been erected close to where the fire was thought to have been started to help investigators access the area.

The revelation came shortly after Prime Minister David Cameron and Chancellor George Osborne visited the pier.

The prime minister said the pier was insured and that its owners want to rebuild it.

Image caption Lifeboats from Eastbourne, Hastings and Newhaven were launched in case anyone had jumped off the pier
Image copyright EPA
Image caption Tourists and locals thronged the beach to watch the pier gradually become engulfed in flames
Image copyright EPA
Image caption The fire broke out at the promenade end of the 144-year-old pier

Wednesday's fire broke out behind some wood panelling in the arcade building, sending huge plumes of smoke into the air.

The scene was described by one onlooker as an "absolute red, molten mess of flame and smoke".

Police have asked people to submit pictures or video footage taken at the entrance or on the pier in the hours before the fire started.

Supt Laurence Taylor said: "The area around and under the pier is still very hazardous and there is a security team deployed to stop people putting themselves in danger."

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