ARSONISTS are being hunted after an investigation found that a fire, which destroyed a parade of shops, was started deliberately.

Fire swept through the row of shops in Durham Lane, Eaglescliffe, near Stockton, early on Saturday, destroying several businesses.

An investigation into the blaze, which happened at about 1.45am, was carried out by Cleveland Police and Cleveland Fire Brigade.

Tony Churchill, Cleveland Fire Brigade’s district manager for Stockton, said: “We are asking people to come forward with any information to this devastating fire. We cannot accept that lives are affected by such malicious acts and the sooner we receive information the better.

“We will work closely with Cleveland Police to identify the people responsible for this.”

The fire has rocked the community and the building’s owner, Mowden Park Estate Company, has yet to decide whether to rebuild the shops or not.

Last night, Stockton South MP James Wharton called on the community to pull together and get the businesses back up and running.

He said: “This has been a huge blow to our community, with people’s jobs and local independent businesses put at risk. I was on site on Saturday and I spoke to the landlords then. We all hope the shopping parade will be rebuilt but in the meantime, whoever did this, especially if it was a deliberate act, must be brought to justice.”

Councillor Maureen Rigg said: “This makes it even worse – the thought that someone could wilfully endanger the lives of those in the flats and the livelihood of dozens of people is too horrific to contemplate.

“We will all work together to get the shops back into use as fast as possible and to encourage anyone with any information that might help the police to come forward quickly.”

Anyone with information is asked to contact Detective Sergeant Stuart Hodgson of Stockton CID on the nonemergency 101 number or Crimestoppers on 0800-555- 111.