Police treating London gurdwara blaze as suspicious

March 18th, 2009 - 9:37 pm ICT by IANS  

London, March 18 (IANS) A huge fire that destroyed most of an important London gurdwara is being treated as suspicious, the city’s police force said Wednesday after the temple management insisted it was started by an intruder.
“It’s an early stage in the inquiry but it is being investigated as suspicious,” a spokesman for Metropolitan Police told IANS.

The fire, which broke out Monday, took 50 firefighters eight hours to put down.

No one was injured but several holy books were reported to have been destroyed as 75 percent of the protected historic building housing the Sikh Sangat gurdwara in east London was gutted.

The police spokesman said investigators had begun forensic examination and were going through local CCTV footage for any clues.

The gurdwara’s executive committee said in a statement that the fire was started by “a male person unknown to the worshippers” who had entered the temple through a side-entrance.

“One of the worshippers came from the main hall and confronted the intruder coming down from the top floor and inquired why he was in the building. He replied that he had come to meet someone and then ran out.

“Shortly after a fire was discovered coming from the top floor Sachkhand room (this room is where the Guru Granth Sahibs/holy books are kept) within the temple complex.

“It is our opinion that the fire was started by this intruder who intended to cause maximum damage to the building with complete disregard to the safety of the worshippers by burning down the room and the contents which is most sacred to the Sikhs,” the executive committee said.

Local reports have quoted eyewitnesses as saying the man was of black or mixed race, and one worshipper reported seeing racist graffiti scrawled on the gurdwara’s outer walls in the past few weeks.

Kamaljeet Kaur, whose aunt was in the temple when the fire broke out, said: “All the women thought he [the alleged intruder] was a robber. It was only when they got upstairs that they discovered the fire raging. It is lucky one of them wasn’t badly hurt.”

Gurdwara officials said the temple, which opened in 1979 and is housed in a building dating back to 1854, was “unusable for the foreseeable future”.

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