Series of arson attacks in St Albans district leaves farms with thousands of pounds of damage

Firefighters attend a blaze at Willows Farm after a stack of hay bales were set alight.

Firefighters attend a blaze at Willows Farm after a stack of hay bales were set alight. - Credit: Archant

A series of arson attacks in the district has left a farm with thousands of pounds worth of damage and another having seen its winter feed go up in smoke.

In the space of a fortnight, land at Batford Farm on Common Lane, Harpenden, rented by tenant farmer Phil Holt suffered an estimated £6,000 worth of damage after arsonists targeted the farm twice in one week.

Then on Sunday (14) evening a two-acre field in Sauncey Wood, also rented by Phil, was set alight, causing even more damage during the busy harvest season.

On Tuesday (16), Willows Activity Farm on Coursers Road, London Colney, was also targeted by suspected arsonists who torched about 250 tonnes hay which was piled for winter feed.

The fire bugs are said to have come in from two entrances, via Willows Road off Coursers Road and via Lowbell Lane, in the early hours of Tuesday (16) morning.

Fire engines were sent to Willows at about 12.15am and another engine from St Albans fire station was sent at about 9am to prevent the fire from spreading. They were there until 2pm putting out the blaze and making the scene safe.

Herts Police confirmed they were treating the incident as arson but were not linking the Willows fire with the three in Harpenden.

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A spokeswoman for Willows Farm said of Tuesday’s fire: “Thankfully no one was hurt and all the animals were moved and are safe and well; however the fire has damaged all straw and hay stored for the winter feeding of animals.

“No buildings or facilities have been affected and Willows Activity Farm continues to operate as normal and is open for visitors.

“The police are studying CCTV footage as part of their ongoing investigations into the cause of the fire. Anyone with information that could help the police with their enquiries should contact them directly. We thank our customers for their concern and their ongoing support.”

At the first Batford Farm fire on July 31, 30 bales of hay were set alight and cattle were able to escape through the gate into the field where the hay was ablaze. The second fire on August 7 saw even more damage to the farm amounting to an estimated total of £6,000.

Pyromaniacs then entered the Sauncey Wood field on Sunday and caused another fire.

Mr Holt and his son Kevin are right in the middle of the harvest season and working 20 hours a day.

Kevin, 35, said: “It’s not only the cost of the damage but our time.”

He also warned about the dangers of trespassing on farms. He said: “I was a kid once so I understand how a farm would seem like a fun place to be, but I was told about the dangers and made aware. There are some kids who are not getting told.”

Kevin added: “They could also get caught up in the fire because the fires spread so quickly. People don’t think about it but it’s really dangerous.”

PC Jane Flemons, the rural and wildlife crime officer for St Albans, said four youths have been interviewed under caution in relation to the Harpenden fires.

A file has been forwarded to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).

She told the Herts Advertiser that there were lots of dangers on a farm that people are not aware of and that if the community spotted trespassers they should make the police aware.

The dangers included being crushed or falling from a hay bales or being attacked by cows protecting their young.

She added: “The other problem with the fire is the type of fire it is. It goes on for days and the fire brigade have to keep going back to check.”

PC Jane Flemons added: “If you see anyone trespassing on a farm please alert the police. Phone 101 if they are just being nuisances or 999 if you believe they are causing damage.”

If you have any information about these incidents contact the police on the non-emergency number 101.