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'A scene of devastation' - memories of the night a town was ravaged by fire

PUBLISHED: 15:47 05 April 2019 | UPDATED: 15:47 05 April 2019

Stephen Wilson has been found guilty of starting the fire in Halesworth which destroyed several businesses. Picture: Amy Smith

Stephen Wilson has been found guilty of starting the fire in Halesworth which destroyed several businesses. Picture: Amy Smith

Archant

Halesworth is probably best described as a peaceful, reserved little town.

The building in Halesworth where the fire took place is still covered in scaffolding. Picture: Thomas ChapmanThe building in Halesworth where the fire took place is still covered in scaffolding. Picture: Thomas Chapman

Locals stop to chat with familiar faces as they go about their daily errands. A stroll along attractive streets is brightened up by floral displays.

Business owners pop next door in between serving customers to say hello to their neighbours.

Fire crews at the scene of the fire in Halesworth. Picture: Amy Smith/Archant.Fire crews at the scene of the fire in Halesworth. Picture: Amy Smith/Archant.

There’s an almost infectious aura of pleasantness about this unassuming corner of Suffolk.

Standing in Chediston Street, however, is a scaffolding monstrosity that you simply cannot miss.

Abbie Clements, who runs Halesworth Book Shop, was at home with her family when she heard about the fire.  Picture: Thomas ChapmanAbbie Clements, who runs Halesworth Book Shop, was at home with her family when she heard about the fire. Picture: Thomas Chapman

It not only makes for an eyesore amid impressive buildings of grandeur, but also serves as a reminder of a summer’s evening during which the town was warmed by flames as well as sunshine.

Just after 6pm on Monday, June 11, Stephen Wilson committed an “extremely petulant, dangerous act” by starting a fire in his flat above DC Patrick newsagents following a row with his pregnant girlfriend.

Firefighters tackling the blaze at Halesworth. Picture: Suffolk Fire and RescueFirefighters tackling the blaze at Halesworth. Picture: Suffolk Fire and Rescue

The blaze went on to engulf the premises, before tearing through adjacent buildings and destroying multiple premises.

Many of those to bear witness to the scene of horror were also business owners, concerned for their own livelihoods.

Allen's Butchers is one of the businesses which has suffered since the fire. Picture: Thomas ChapmanAllen's Butchers is one of the businesses which has suffered since the fire. Picture: Thomas Chapman

Directly opposite the newsagents sits Allen’s Butchers, run by Kevin Allen for 25 years. He rushed into town as soon as he heard about the blaze.

“We’d finished for the day and I received a phone call from my step-daughter about the fire, so I came straight down here,” said Mr Allen.

“It was chaos. There were half dozen fire engines, a severe amount of smoke and the building was completely alight.”

Next door to the scene of the fire is Halesworth Bookshop, run by Abbie Clements for just a few months prior to that fateful night.

“It was my son’s 20th birthday so we were at home celebrating,” said Mrs Clements. “Suddenly I received a phone call and tons of messages saying the building next door was on fire.

“I left for Halesworth and on the approach I could just see so much smoke, and so many firefighters.”

Laura Brown, who owns The Feedbarn next door to Allen’s, could only grasp the sheer scale of the fire when she arrived in Halesworth the next day.

“On the evening itself I was away, so I didn’t see anything until early the next morning,” added Miss Brown.

“At first I was relieved my shop hadn’t been affected but over the road was just a scene of devastation.

“It’s a beautiful street and part of that is gone.”

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