Hogmanay arson attack guts painstakingly restored 1930s home

The restored kitched was completely gutted. Picture: Andrew O'Brien

The restored kitched was completely gutted. Picture: Andrew O'Brien

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A HOME which had been painstakingly restored to its 1930s glory has been gutted in a Hogmanay blaze.

Investigators believe that the fire was started deliberately through a catflap in the back door of the Restalrig Avenue property.

The kitchen before the attack. Picture: Neale Smith

The kitchen before the attack. Picture: Neale Smith

Owners Martha Lester-Cribb and Sandy Kerr had been taking in the bells at a remote cottage in the Highlands, unaware that their home had been wrecked until the next day.

Their kitchen has been left unrecognisable, while the remainder of the house is badly damaged and “irreplaceable” personal possessions have been lost forever.

Neighbours and relatives desperately tried to reach the couple, but they had no phone signal.

The devastating news was brought to them on New Year’s Day, when Ms Lester-Cribb’s mother managed to contact a farmer who lived near the cottage.

It’s horrific to think that it’s deliberate. We are thankful that we didn’t do anything stupid and we had working smoke alarms – that makes you feel a bit better.

Martha Lester-Cribb

The pair, who had been staying near Tongue in the north-west Highlands, said the extent of the damage only sank in when they returned to Edinburgh.

Ms Lester-Cribb, 46, said: “The firefighters didn’t even recognise that it was a kitchen – they had to ask the neighbours which room it was.

“We had cupboards which don’t even exist any more. I found the freezer drawer on the floor, I didn’t know what it was. You wouldn’t know it was a kitchen.”

It is believed that the suspect went around the terraced house to the back door, and set something alight before placing it through the catflap.

The whole house was affected by smoke and water damage. Picture: Andrew O'Brien

The whole house was affected by smoke and water damage. Picture: Andrew O'Brien

“It’s astonishing, the fact they had to put in quite a lot of effort to get to [the back door], it’s not an easy place to get to, the back of the property,” said Ms Lester-Cribb.

“It’s horrific to think that it’s deliberate. We are thankful that we didn’t do anything stupid and we had working smoke alarms – that makes you feel a bit better.

“We don’t even know if they knew whether or not we were there – that’s really frightening. I just keep going back to the fact that nobody was injured.

“We have got two families with young kids either side of us. I can’t image how we would be feeling if they were affected. That would be a different situation.”

The bathroom before the fire. Picture: Neale Smith

The bathroom before the fire. Picture: Neale Smith

The couple, who have owned the house for three-and-a-half years, said they had no idea what the fireraiser’s motive was.

Ms Lester-Cribb and Mr Kerr, 57, are still surveying the damage of the three-bedroom house, however they know they will be out of the property for months.

The house, which had been remodelled by previous owners to reflect its original 1930s style, featured in leading magazine Homes and Interiors Scotland in 2012.

It boasted original sash and case windows, working fireplaces, cupboards, furniture and ornaments dating back to the 30s, with paintwork meticulously matched to a colour manual of the time.

But the firefighters had to smash the majority of the windows to let the smoke out, and even upstairs the rooms have significant smoke damage.

Ms Lester-Cribb said: “It’s such an unusual, beautiful house. One of the jobs I have to do is to tell [the old owners] about it. It will all need to be decorated, and there was flooding, because all the pipes were melted. I think it will need re-wired.

Owners Martha Lester-Cribb and Sandy Kerr inside their ruined home. Picture: Andrew O'Brien

Owners Martha Lester-Cribb and Sandy Kerr inside their ruined home. Picture: Andrew O'Brien

“Thankfully [the fire] didn’t spread. The firefighter had said ‘thank goodness it was brick’ – at least it had prevented it from spreading. They evacuated two houses either way in case it had gone through.”

She said the smell of the smoke damage was “absolutely overwhelming”, adding: “It’s so powerful and really noxious.”

She and her partner are relieved that their two “traumatised” cats were found safe and well, however a new pet hamster died in the blaze.

And some of their most precious possessions were destroyed – including ceramic decorations given by a late friend of the couple, and a portrait created by Ms Lester-Gibb’s aunt.

“These are irreplaceable,” she said. “Luckily the Christmas presents we’d bought for other people had all been given out so that was something. It’s very odd – it doesn’t feel like our home.”

The couple, who are staying with Ms Lester-Cribb’s mother in Edinburgh, have been overwhelmed with the support from neighbours. Even those they have never met have sent messages via the police.

She said the extent of the damage was still difficult to process, however she and her partner were relieved that no-one was hurt.

“It was very hard to take in, how bad it was,” she said. “It was just very shocking. We were trying to get our heads around it.”

The couple’s neighbours have had to move out temporarily to allow specialist cleaners to deal with smoke damage.

One resident, who asked not to be named, said: “We got a call from a neighbour who had gone out to see the fireworks. They were surprised there were all these fire units and police on the street. The fire brigade had been in the houses round about to make sure nobody was in.

“The police were there all night, for the next 24 hours. A few hundred yards of the street was cordoned off.”

A police spokeswoman confirmed the blaze was being treated as suspicious and that a joint inquiry was ongoing.

She said: “Police in Edinburgh were called to an address on Restalrig Avenue at 11.40pm on Thursday, December 31 following a report of a fire. No-one was injured, although the fire caused extensive damage to the property.

“A joint investigation was conducted with the Scottish Fire & Rescue Service, and the fire is currently being treated as suspicious.

“Anyone who saw any suspicious behaviour in the area around this time, or who has information which can assist with the investigation, is asked to contact Police Scotland on 101 or contact Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 
555 111.”

kaye.nicolson@edinburghnews.com

Firefighters attend the Restalrig Avenue blaze. Picture: Andrew O'Brien

Firefighters attend the Restalrig Avenue blaze. Picture: Andrew O'Brien

The home was badly damaged in the fire. Picture: Andrew O'Brien

The home was badly damaged in the fire. Picture: Andrew O'Brien