The £20,000 cost of St Albans farm arson attack

PUBLISHED: 18:51 09 September 2011

Tyttenhanger Green, St Albans.  Haystacks fire.  Cllr Chris Brazier next to the damage caused by the fire.

Tyttenhanger Green, St Albans. Haystacks fire. Cllr Chris Brazier next to the damage caused by the fire.

THE FARMER whose land was targeted in an arson attack at the weekend says he may have lost £20,000 in the blaze which tore through a 10-metre-high hay stack.

James Surridge, who owns the farm in Tyttenhanger just off Highfield Lane, says he and his team are “absolutely devastated” by the attack and he fears he is being intimidated by a small element in the local community.

He said: “There is always the chance that this was an accident, a spark perhaps from a machine, but it’s very unlikely. There are too many coincidences for this to be the case.

“We cannot help but think that the anti-social behaviour we are suffering is a targeted, planned and extremely dangerous attack.

“I’m making a lot of noise and it’s upsetting certain people and it may be that this is in response to that.

“We are asking the police and the local council for a strong and more targeted response.”

It is the third suspected arson attack in the last six weeks but it is by far the most destructive and financially devastating for James.

The 10-metre-high pile of hay bales had been stacked just half an hour before it is thought to have been set alight. The stacking had been done to weather-proof the hay and straw and prepare it for delivery to Ely Power Station at the beginning of this week. Failing to make that order has lost the farm £10,000.

James added: “We didn’t collect another stack together because we feared there might be another attack, but this has meant it’s been out in all the rain. There’s a very big chance that the hay won’t be accepted because it’s too wet and then we’ve lost another £10,000.

“We are concerned that residents within the village are saying we were irresponsible placing the bales where we did, but we placed them there because there are only two places that a lorry and trailer can be loaded on our farm. This spot is one of them. Highfield Hall is another. Both spots have been subject to arson attacks. There is no safe space to store bales in Tyttenhanger.”

James offered his apologies to anyone who was inconvenienced by the fire and thanked all those involved in making the area safe for their prompt and professional responses.

The crops on James’s land are covered by insurance but a claim like that could see the farm’s overall insurance premium increase, still leaving the business out of pocket.

Firefighters tried to bring the fire under control throughout Saturday night and returned on Sunday and Monday to monitor the scene.

Nearby residents were told to leave their homes as the fire raged and crews from across the county were called in as a precautionary measure.

The intense heat also meant that passing traffic was redirected.

Local district and county councillor Chris Brazier visited the scorched field on Monday and will meet with James tomorrow (Friday). He said he had been contacted by several worried local residents on Saturday night.

He said: “People were very concerned and you can see, from the state of the hedgerows, just how fiercely this fire burned.

“I’ve contacted the county council to ask what is being done to prevent cases of arson like this? It’s a problem across the county and it’s costing farmers a tremendous amount of money.”

Police are appealing for witnesses to the fire and ask anyone with information about what happened to contact the non emergency number 101 or call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555111.

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