Home Page After the fire comes the blame game 08/06/12

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Hart of the Matter

It may be an unpleasant thought to contemplate, but if a firefighter had gone into Sunday nightís inferno at Castle Hill Middle School in the belief someone was in there and needed rescuing, and that firefighter had been killed, whose fault would it have been?

 

The easy answer is to blame whoever the idiot or idiots were who started the fire. We donít know yet exactly how it began, but itís quite a good bet that someone set fire to it on purpose.

 

The building has been derelict since it closed last July and in that time it has been a honeypot to thieves and vandals intent on breaking it to pieces or ripping out the metalwork to sell. There had already been one minor fire there and police had warned of the dangers the site presented.

 

That being the case, it would seem logical that someone in authority did something about it. It had already been decided there was no future use for the buildings, so demolishing them was the obvious course.

 

For some reason that has taken a very long time to accomplish Ė in fact, it has not even been started yet at the other redundant school sites in Haverhill.

 

Assuming that this delay was unavoidable, some sort of security would be the fallback plan Ė some way of preventing people getting into the site to cause damage. It is a situation familiar to any company which has developed a sizeable site in Haverhill, from Tesco to the football complex to the new primary schools.

 

It begins with inadequate perimeter fencing and ends with something approaching a fortress patrolled regularly by security companies. The process is entirely predictable and had even been experienced by Suffolk County Council recently during the construction of the primary schools.

 

However, this was not put in place, as anyone who went along to view the aftermath of the fire could see for themselves. The perimeter fencing would not have kept out a sheep, let alone a determined intruder.

 

The initial excuse, when the issue was broached by the police some weeks ago, was that it would only be for a very short period of time so it wasnít worth the expense. Thatís a not unusual response in these straitened times.

 

Further pressure being applied, other excuses came forth, such as permission to demolish being needed from Whitehall and, only last week, the services being still connected. This last is bizarre and can only be explained by one department of the county council not knowing what another department is doing.

 

Of course, the Ipswich supremos would no doubt be the first to blame the arsonists so as to shift any fault from their own laxity, if that is what it was. As so often with any form of government, when something particularly inexplicable goes wrong there are two explanations Ė incompetence or conspiracy.

Those of us with long memories in Haverhill will not be unaware of the cloud of conspiracy theory which hung over the burning down of Burton Cottage, which stood on the site now occupied by the library complex.

 

This was an attractive old-ish former town residence which had been gifted to the county council and was being used as a youth centre. During one of the councilís periodic retractions of youth provision in a town with a high percentage of young people, it was closed down.

 

I donít know if it was actually listed or not, but it was certainly highly valued by those who like to preserve Haverhill history, so it was rather a stroke of luck that, once it had been derelict for long enough, somebody finally set light to it and made way for the new complex on the site.

 

The experience was enough to make us slightly nervous throughout the time the old Cangle School buildings were boarded up, because the county council owned them, too.

 

Clearly such occurrences are just in the nature of derelict buildings, but it didnít look good at the time. Yet, if they are in the nature of derelict buildings, then why did the county council, which has far more derelict buildings than anyone else in Suffolk, not see the danger. Or did they not care?

 

That would be a damaging thought, because fire brings the potential for loss of life, so one would hope we could dismiss that idea.

 

Perhaps Ė and this is one point that could be made in their favour Ė they could point to many other derelict sites across the county that are not as heavily vandalised, and to Haverhillís much-vaunted low crime rate.

 

"If,Ē they might say, "your town is the safe and pleasant place you are always claiming to us that it is, why should we put in place greater protection for a site in Haverhill than we do elsewhere?Ē

 

Itís a hard one to answer, because we canít really reply that everyone knows derelict buildings in Haverhill are bound to attract thieves and vandals. What is it Ė the Gorbals?

 

For that matter, was it kids? Youngsters always get the blame but thereís no proof yet.

 

Amid many uncertainties, one fact stands out Ė someone didnít do their job properly, and if nothing else comes out of this fiasco, at least we should make sure we find out who it was.

David Hart
David Hart revives his personal take on the week in Haverhill, covering everything from major town developments to what we do with our rubbish.
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