Deliberate fires in Wester Hailes and canal path assaults ‘believed to be linked’

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Firefighters faced blazes at WHEC and Bridge 8 community hub at same time

A secondary school and a community hub were deliberately set on fire and two people assaulted on a canal path during a night of violence and destruction in west Edinburgh.

Crews spent four hours battling a fire last night at the Wester Hailes Education Centre (WHEC) which has left it "heavily smoke damaged".

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Scottish Fire and Rescue were alerted to reports of the fire in a games hall at the WHEC secondary school shortly after 8pm.

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Firefighters tackle large blaze at Edinburgh's Wester Hailes Education Centre

Around 25 minutes later on the same evening, a garden hut at the popular Bridge 8 community hub, located less than half a mile away, was also reported ablaze.

Crews remained on the scene at the WHEC until shortly after midnight.

No-one was injured as a result of the fires.

Bridge 8 community hub has been left devastated.Bridge 8 community hub has been left devastated.
Bridge 8 community hub has been left devastated. | JPIMedia

The fires followed earlier incidents on a nearby path at the Union Canal, where two people were assaulted.

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Around 7.30pm a 30-year-old man was assaulted on the Union Canal path but sustained no injuries. The second assault also occurred on the Union Canal path around 8.30pm and a 37-year-old woman was conveyed to Edinburgh Royal Infirmary with serious but not life-threatening injuries.

Police say they believe the assaults and fire-raising incidents are linked and are following positive lines of enquiry.

Photographs emerged on Saturday morning revealing the devastation and smouldering remains of Bridge 8’s garden hut.

The blaze at the WHEC was contained to a games hall, a spokesperson said.The blaze at the WHEC was contained to a games hall, a spokesperson said.
The blaze at the WHEC was contained to a games hall, a spokesperson said. | JPIMedia

Bridge 8 hub said a police investigation was ongoing to try and determine the circumstances behind the incident.

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Speaking to the Evening News, Sean Barry, founder of the social enterprise and outdoor learning hub, said at least two buildings had been wrecked in the fire, but praised the local community for rallying to the cause and helping out with the grim aftermath.

He said: “We are absolutely devastated. However, it’s been great to see the community rallying around – particularly (Scottish Greens councillor) Gavin Corbett, who has been instrumental this morning.”

Mr Barry added that an estimated £40,000-£50,000 worth of damage had been caused by the blaze.

“Two buildings have been destroyed. An outdoor classroom, the Willow Garden hub and a pop-up building that was donated to us by Edinburgh Council. Our toilet facilities are also gone.”

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Meanwhile, a spokesperson for Edinburgh Council said the WHEC would reopen to pupils on Monday as normal despite the blaze.

The spokesperson said: "The school is open to all pupils on Monday. The swimming pool is operating as normal this weekend however all other leisure facilities are postponed until further notice.

“Fire damage was confined to one of the games hall and we would like to thank the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service for their swift response last night.

“We will continue to support both the fire service and Police Scotland in their investigations into the cause."

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A spokeswoman for the fire service said seven appliances were sent to tackle the WHEC fire, which was traced to a cupboard in the school.

On Saturday morning, she added: "The building has been ventilated and is heavily smoke damaged."

No casualties or injuries have been reported in either of last night’s incidents.

Oskar Czapkiewicz, a former pupil at the school, told the PA news agency: "The fire looked really severe. I got there when they were just opening the door.

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"The fire has been tamed and it's under control. There's a lot of damage.

"I was devastated, and the fact that my little brother still goes to the school and the exams are just around the corner."

Police officers are appealing for anyone who was in the area at the time of the incidents and who may have any information to contact them on 101 quoting incident number 3544 of 13 March.

Wester Hailes Education Centre is the former school of Edinburgh South MP Ian Murray, who launched his campaign for the deputy leadership of the Labour Party at the school in January.

It also hosted Education Secretary John Swinney last month, as he gave a speech outlining plans for a review of the Scottish curriculum to a group of headteachers and education figures.

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