ARSONISTS went on a wrecking spree – torching 10 allotment plots on two different sites just minutes apart.
Ten sheds were set alight on two different sites in crimes branded by the victims as “sickening”.
Today the gardeners were left counting the cost while police and fire brigade chiefs launched an investigation.
The incidents are being treated as suspicious. A 22-year-old man was arrested on suspicion of arson, but was bailed pending further inquiries.
Two crews from Stranton Fire Station were called to allotments at Haswell Avenue, where six sheds and a greenhouse were completely destroyed in a blaze, around 1am yesterday.
Just 40 minutes later, a report was received that three sheds and a caravan at the nearby Brierton Lane allotments was also well alight.
Crews from Billingham and Stockton fire stations spent two-and-a-half hours dealing with this incident while Stranton crews were at Haswell Avenue for an hour.
When the Mail visited the Haswell Avenue site, a visibly shaken pensioner whose shed had been burned to the ground was seen surveying the damage.
The man, who did not wish to be named, said: “It’s to be expected in this day and age, it’s just a matter of clearing up now.”
The charred remains of wooden sheds, tools and other debris were visible, while greenhouses were also damaged by the flames.
Haswell Avenue Allotment Association secretary Chris Walker, branded the sickening act as “mindless”. He added: “We are a small association of only 30 plots and 90 per cent of allotment-holders are of a pensionable age.
“We very rarely have any incidents, but a couple of months ago we had someone trying to break in.
“This is a lot more serious.
“This is people of a pensionable age and it’s worth a lot of money to them and all the hard work they put into building up the sheds.”
Haswell Avenue allotment-holder Geoff Hillier, a 68-year-old retired bus driver and dad-of-two, who has lived opposite the plots for 45 years, said: “Thankfully my wife’s allotment wasn’t affected.
“But it’s a bit sickening, people put all their hard work into it and then people do this.”
Meanwhile, 62-year-old Alan Hornsey was targeted at the Brierton Lane site.
His shed, greenhouse and a touring caravan and contents, as well as a neighbouring hut, were destroyed.
The part-time Morrisons worker, who has had his plot for five years, estimated at least £1,000 of damage had been caused in his garden.
He said: “I feel terrible, devastated.
“I had just got it how I wanted it.
“I got a phone call from one of the other lads to come down, I didn’t expect this at all. This is nothing to some people, but it’s a way of life.”
But the dad-of-two and grandfather-of-one, from the Rossmere area, refused to be defeated, adding: “I’ll just have to clear it all up and start again.”
Andy Hardy, watch manager at Stranton Fire Station, said: “We think someone has done this deliberately.
“It’s just ruining people’s hobbies. People have probably been there for years and it all just goes up in flames in half an hour, it’s mindless.”
Detective Sergeant Jo Wright, of Hartlepool CID, said: “A 22-year-old male was arrested on suspicion of arson and bailed pending further inquiries.”
Anyone with information is asked to call Det Sgt Wright on (01642) 302131.