�40,000 arson misery for Dereham nursery firm

Arsonists are believed to have caused �40,000 of damage to a Norfolk family's plant-growing business – prompting an urgent plea for help to find the culprits.

Detectives are investigating the cause of a fire which destroyed a storage building at Read's Nurseries, in Dumpling Green, near Dereham.

Allan Read, the fourth generation of his family to run the company, raised the alarm shortly after midnight on Friday, after seeing the flames from the back door of his nearby home, where he had been woken by banging noises.

Emergency crews from Dereham and Hingham had the fire under control within an hour.

The padlocked door to the main glasshouse storage area had been forced open and officers on the scene said the blaze had been started deliberately.

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Mr Read said the shed had contained a battery charger, tools and equipment, as well as thousands of plastic labels and polystyrene trays.

Although the extent of the fire damage made an exact inventory of lost goods impossible, he estimated that building repairs and replacement equipment could cost up to �40,000 – which was not covered by his business insurance.

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'I would like the person or persons who did this caught,' said Mr Read. 'I just cannot believe it.

'To my knowledge, no-one has got a vendetta against me – it is not like I've sacked anybody recently.

'The whole building is absolutely trashed so it is difficult to see if anything has been stolen. Everything was either burned or melted in the heat.

'That area of the nursery is not insured. There is nothing that would ignite in there so I have never bothered to do it.

'It is a big hit to the business, but we will get over it – we have to, for the sake of the people we employ here.'

Mr Read said the area was often used to store tools and had been targeted by thieves in the past.

'Whoever it was knows there are sometime tools in there, but they are very specific to our work,' he said. 'I know there was a box of matches inside, so I guess someone could have broken in, realised there was nothing to take, and decided to start a fire.'

Reads, which celebrated its centenary last year, supplies ornamental plants and flowers to independent garden centres, shops and markets throughout East Anglia.

Some of its flowers, growing in a glasshouse near the storage shed, were scorched by the fire.

'Crop-wise it could have been a lot worse,' said Mr Read. 'The damage is mainly to the structure and the equipment.'

A spokesman for Norfolk police said the fire was being treated as a suspected arson and encouraged any witnesses to come forward.

?Anyone with information should contact Det Con Kevin Simmonds at Thetford CID on 0845 456 4567 or Crimestoppers on 0800 555111.

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