POLICE are investigating a suspected arson attack that has devastated the home of one of Britain’s longest-serving Irish charities.
Ashford Place, formerly Cricklewood Homeless Concern, was torched after a man broke into its north London offices in the early hours of Tuesday morning.
CCTV images show him setting the place alight with matches and using a deodorant-like canister to fan the flames before they engulfed the building’s lower floor, the charity’s CEO told The Irish Post.
Danny Maher said hundreds of vulnerable people who rely on the organisation have been left “soul-destroyed” after seeing the damage done by the fire.
“We have no idea why someone would do this deliberately,” he added.
“But the main thing for us is the sadness for our customers, taking them away from their dinner, from their life, from their support. It might be just a week or so, but people depend on us.”
Some 18 fire fighters were called in to fight the blaze at 4:30am on Tuesday and managed to restrict the damage.
But the kitchen and dining room that serve hot meals to some of the city’s most vulnerable people were ravaged, forcing the charity to turn away around 200 clients already.
Mr Maher said: “The big issue for us now is having to turn people away from their daily lunch. It is not just a cooked meal, it is a social gathering and gives them a connection with people, especially now as the weather is so miserable.
“For many of these people it is their only meal of the day and we are having to turn them away all because of some idiot.”
The Tipperary man added that the damage to the building could cost amount to tens of thousands of pounds.
Half of those who use Ashford Place’s services are Irish.
Mr Maher said that since the attack the charity has had to turn away a number of “extremely vulnerable” people.
They include rough sleepers and those with addictions or mental illnesses who rely on Ashford Place to help them pay their utility bills and claim the benefits they need to survive.
“This could exacerbate their problems,” Mr Maher warned.
“These people might not eat for a week. They might resort to shoplifting food and getting in all kinds troubles and might not be able to pay their gas or electricity bills with our place not being available to them. It hits them hard because they are not able to function like the rest of us.”
But he added that he is “very hopeful” the culprit will be caught after footage of him staring directly into CCTV cameras was handed over to detectives.
The Metropolitan Police said they are treating the fire as suspicious and are appealing for witnesses.
A spokesperson confirmed that no arrests have yet been made.