Police believe Banbury blaze may have been arson

Banesberie Close derelict bungalows 1 NNL-181106-154353001
Banesberie Close derelict bungalows 1 NNL-181106-154353001

Police are treating Saturday’s fire in an elderly people’s bungalow as potential arson.

Officers have appealed for information to detectives to helpl in their investigation.

Banesberie Close, Banbury. Residents, from the left, Christine McMullan and Shirley Smithson with Sue Cook. NNL-180506-172947009

Banesberie Close, Banbury. Residents, from the left, Christine McMullan and Shirley Smithson with Sue Cook. NNL-180506-172947009

The fire broke out in a derelict bungalow in Banesberie Close shortly after 7am. It is understood metal framing on a window had been forced.

An elderly man living in the adjoining bungalow was suspected as having smoke inhalation but was not hospitalised.

The blaze, believed to have started in the kitchen area of the property, was tackled using three fire appliances.

Only 17 of the cul-de-dac’s 30 bungalows are occupied. Most of the residents are pensioners, some in their 80s.

Empty bungalows in Banesberie Close, Banbury. NNL-170627-163648009

Empty bungalows in Banesberie Close, Banbury. NNL-170627-163648009

A police spokesman said: “Thames Valley Police officers were called (on Saturday) at about 7.20am following reports of a fire in Banesberie Close, Banbury.

“Officers attended along with the fire service. It is believed that arson could have been cause of the incident.

“No one was injured. An investigation into the incident is taking place. Anyone with any information is asked to call the Thames Valley Police non-emergency number on 101.”

The Banbury Guardian, with former BBC journalist and presenter Sue Cook, have been calling on Lambeth Council in London - which owns the bungalows - to speed up transfer of the houses to Sanctuary Housing for renovation and rented occupation.

Empty bungalows in Banesberie Close, Banbury. NNL-170627-163601009

Empty bungalows in Banesberie Close, Banbury. NNL-170627-163601009

Ms Cook wrote to Victoria Prentis immediately asking for her intervention.

She said: “Things have been getting steadily worse. Some 17 of the 30 bungalows in this once pretty close are now empty and boarded up - a travesty.

“Gardens are overgrown and weed strewn, fences collapsed, drugs detritus is in evidence and the whole close prey to vandals - all because ownership of the close is still technically in the hands of Lambeth Council who want shot of it and are taking no interest in the place.

“Most of the remaining residents are elderly, trying gamely to keep their own properties maintained while the neighbouring properties go to rack and ruin. My friend’s mother is too frightened to open her windows despite the sweltering weather,” she wrote.

Ms Cook referred to moves between Lambeth and Sanctuary to transfer ownership but proceedings are extremely slow. Some of the properties have been vacant and boarded up for up to seven years.

A statement from Lambeth to the Banbury Guardian in late June said: “The draft contract has been sent by Lambeth to Sanctuary. “Hopefully we’ll be soon able to agree a final draft and suggest an actual completion/transfer date. We already have an in-principle agreement to the transfer from the Secretary of State.”