A CHURCH hall has been destroyed by fire following a suspected arson attack.

Police are investigating after the blaze reduced St John’s Church Hall in Meadowfield, near Durham, to charred timbers and scorched corrugated iron panels.

Three fire crews and the aerial ladder platform from County Durham and Darlington Fire and Rescue Service rushed to the scene on the A690 road, which was closed.

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Firefighters were called at around 6.15am this morning (Sunday, March 23), but were unable to save the building, which dates back to the early 20th century.

Neighbours were awoken by the sound of crackling from the fire as flames took hold.

Bill Brown, 58, who has lived next door for 30 years, said: “I heard the crackling coming from the asbestos in the roof and realised the hut was on fire.

“I came out and hosed the side of the house down to stop it from spreading.

“We have been lucky because the direction of the wind meant it did not affect the plastic guttering. It could have been a lot worse, but it is a bit of a mess.”

The hall had not been used since year but had been home to the Brownies and a dance group.

Church Warden David Jocelyn said: “It was well alight when I got here and the fire brigade had been here about 20 minutes.

“You could hear the wood burning and see the flames rising up. It is quite devastating.”

Church leaders were hoping to renovate the property for community use and had started fundraising, but are now looking at rebuilding it completely.

The Durham area dean, Robert Lawrance  said he hoped the community would be galvanized by the fire.

He said: “I am very sorry about this. It is terribly sad.

“I know that the church was working to restore the hall to community use. “Members are committed to trying to provide that for people and I hope the community will pull together.”

Durham Police is investigating and officers and making inquiries as well as studying CCTV of the area.

Anyone with information to help catch those responsible is asked to contact the non emergency number, 101, or Crimestoppers on 0800-555-111.