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A city worker has been charged after a fire at a golf course clubhouse meant to be used for homeless people was set deliberately by a colleague.
The buildings, two rows of buildings housing two shops and a smoking lounge called the Greenhouse, were completely destroyed after the fire was started in January.
The flat in Albion Way, Scotland Yard said the charge of arson is believed to be linked to the “loss of a life and property and the damage of many other buildings” sustained in the fire.
It was a birthday party – as had been reported in the press – but police say the employees were “incompetent and reckless” and say there was “very little belief” that the fire was set as a birthday present.
The associate in charge of risk management was arrested as he left the building and taken into custody on suspicion of arson and released on bail until 18 July.
Workers discovered smoke billowing from the roof and Blackfriars Bridge was closed off while fire crews attended.
Neighbours said fire chiefs were brought in and police were called on a fire alarm sounding in the tower block which is opposite.
One resident, David Fox, told BBC Scotland: “When I saw smoke shooting from the roof I thought that was a little bit sad, and the police put up a cordon.
“But no sooner than I’d left the police were ordering everyone out of the building.
“They probably thought it was a fire which was apparently owned by a friend of the family, but in fact it wasn’t, and people who were trying to help were then trapped as they couldn’t get out.”
London Fire Brigade Inspector Martin Bower said it was in the “very early stages” of establishing the cause of the fire.
“Until we get our fire investigation teams in and find the origin we can’t be certain if there were any intentionally lit accelerants but the Crown Prosecution Service think there was sufficient evidence to lay charges,” he said.
Although a firefighter in the area said he had reported smelling a “certain kind of smoke” when he was called to the incident.
The resident added: “They said no matter how hard I tried, they just couldn’t find the source of the fire.”
Forty fire crews and more than 200 firefighters and officers were called to the fire, which was believed to have caused damage of around £2m.