15th June 1949

Jersey is struck by two big fires

Arson. That was the verdict of a Home Office expert sent to Jersey to investigate two large fires, one of which laid waste to a furniture depository. They were later linked to a series of other fires in the island, which had been ongoing for three years and continued into the autumn of 1949.

The first fire, in March 1946, had been at a large fire at a timber yard in St Helier, which had destroyed thousands of vegetable packing crates that were being readied for transporting that year’s potato crop.

Taking no chances

So, summer 1949, police were out in force, there were rumours of a midnight curfew (later denied), and dozens of voluntary fire watchers were sent out into the streets in fear that the arsonist might strike again.

The Home Office expert, JB Firth, was accompanied by police from Scotland Yard, who would investigate the circumstances surrounding the fires. Their arrival had been inspired in part by the loss of £100,000-worth of art treasures belonging to Lord Jersey in a fire that took hold shortly after the blaze at the furniture depository. Those treasures included two pictures by Rubens and one by Van Dyke. Each of the fires had started at around two o’clock in the morning.

After the third blaze, there was no doubt that arson was involved: it had occurred at a garage in St Helier where more than 100 vehicles were being stored. While raking through the ash and other remains, local police discovered that the petrol caps of three lorries on the site had been removed prior to the fire breaking out.

A hot story goes cold

Despite the number of fires involved and the potential for evidence it took police a long time to identify a culprit. Papers reported in early November – almost five months later – that an arrest was “imminent” and that mainland police had flown to Jersey.

It is to be hoped that they got the right person this time, as the papers seemingly lost interest shortly after this point, leaving the conclusion of the affair under-reported. However, police had previously questioned a suspect in October after he had voluntarily attended the police station in connection with the fires. He was released the following day with police saying they were satisfied that he was unable to help them with their investigations.


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