A HUGE fire that broke out at a historic building at the weekend is being treated as arson, the police have confirmed.

Shocked Saturday night revellers watched flames shoot around 20ft in the air as a blaze destroyed the roof of the listed Wesley building, a former church and nightclub in the centre of Hartlepool.

On Monday afternoon, a spokeswoman for Cleveland Police confirmed that the force was treating the incident as arson as the property’s owners spoke out.

Property tycoon Stuart Monk, managing director of Jomast, said he hopes those responsible for the blaze are apprehended quickly as he told The Northern Echo of the shock he felt at hearing about the fire.

The building, which has been empty for several years, was in the process of being converted into a hotel by the property development firm, according to Mr Monk.

Despite the blaze having destroyed 100 per cent of the roof and fourth floor, Mr Monk said that development work would continue and that he was confident the conversion project would progress.

He said the firm had owned the building for 20 years, adding: “We will now be looking to repair and replace the roof and will continue the refurbishment to convert the building into a hotel in accordance with planning consent.

“The building has been damaged by someone – who, we do not know, but hopefully the police are in the process of apprehending those who perpetrated this crime and hopefully they will be brought to justice.

“We believe it was maliciously done by persons unknown and it was a shocking incident and awful to see, but we are very grateful to the fire brigade who were able to attend and put the fire out with minimal damage.

“It is unfortunate that we now have to replace the roof but the main thing is that structurally there has not been much damage to the main building.”

Mr Monk quashed rumours that suggested homeless people had been staying in the property, saying: “I’m not aware of any homeless people staying there and the building was completely secured so nobody should have been in there.

“I don’t know how those responsible managed to get in there.”