Farmer near Market Harborough urges people to help police catch 'sick' arsonists after fire does £40k of damage

A furious farmer near Market Harborough is urging people to help police catch “sick” serial firebugs who torched over 1,000 bales of his straw – sparking up to £40,000 damage

Tuesday, 20th October 2020, 10:07 am
Updated Tuesday, 20th October 2020, 10:10 am
Image taken by Leicestershire Fire and Rescue Service.

Robert Beesley, 53, hit the warpath after arsonists feared to be behind a string of terrifying fire attacks in the Welland Valley struck his farm at Cranoe, near Hallaton, in the early hours of Saturday (October 17).

He spoke out as the charity Crimestoppers put up a £1,000 reward for information that leads to the arrest and conviction of the arsonists striking farms in the Market Harborough area.

Get in touch with Crimestoppers by calling 0800 555 111 or at www.crimestoppers-uk.org if you have any vital clues which could help nail the firestarters.

Outraged dad-of-three Robert now wants the culprits caught before they target another local farmer after carrying out at least four devastating straw blaze assaults in the last few weeks alone.

“It’s absolutely sickening – this is a huge blow to us.

“Straw is particularly short this year after a poor harvest.

“And we get these sick people going from farm to farm across the Welland Valley setting our bales alight,” declared Robert, who owns Grange Farm off Main Street in the hamlet of Cranoe.

“It is very worrying that so many of us farmers have been hit by these pyromaniacs in the Market Harborough area.

“My family have been farming here at Grange Farm since the 1950s – and I’ve never known a spree of deliberate blazes like this before.”

He said his son’s stunned girlfriend spotted the ferocious blaze from their home in Cranoe at about 3.45am on Saturday.

“She saw the flames leaping up into the night sky and immediately phoned us and dialled 999 to alert the fire brigade.

“I shot straight out there with my son to find over 1,000 bales of straw already well ablaze,” said Robert, who runs his 1,000-acre farm with his sons James and Ian.

“There was nothing I could do except look on helplessly as the firemen fought the inferno.

“I was just powerless.

“My son drove around in the pitch-black darkness to see if he could find the people who did it watching on because that’s how they get their sick kicks.

“But he drew a blank.

“The only good thing was that my straw wasn’t in a barn or a shed near livestock or machinery.

“I’d stacked it up at the side of the field, about 20 yards from a gate by the road.

“We need to put it somewhere easy to get to because we need access to it throughout the winter.

“The aggravation caused by an attack like this is massive.

“We keep 200-300 sheep and 150-200 beef cattle and this straw would have provided vital feed through the winter,” said Robert.

“I have had to go to the insurer and I just hope I have enough insurance cover to make up for the loss.

“But who ever is carrying out all these attacks on our farms needs urgent help because it’s obviously not normal and it’s certainly not acceptable – this can’t go on.”

The latest onslaught comes after arsonists struck at Little Oxendon Farm, near Market Harborough on Sunday September 27.

They also destroyed over 1,000 bales of straw on Patricia Walker’s Langton Hall Farm on West Langton Road, West Langton, on Sunday September 13.

And a devastating blaze tore through over 500 tonnes of straw at Chris Parker’s Home Farm on Valley Road, Weston by Welland, on Wednesday September 16.

“The funny thing is that I’d actually earmarked 200-300 bales of our straw for poor Chris Parker to help him out after he was targeted last month.

“So now we’ve both seriously lost out thanks to these arsonists,” said Robert.

“Straw has shot up in value.

“It’s selling for at least £35 a bale and we buy it in by the ton.

“In a normal year we’d just call our neighbours and they’d help us out.

“But no one has any spare this year because the harvest has been so bad.

“It’s hard to know how we can protect our stocks because we can’t stand there watching over our straw 24 hours a day.

“But I do know that we all have to help the police capture the people responsible before they pounce again – and someone may get injured.”

Leicestershire Police are now working alongside Northamptonshire Police as they unite to catch the offenders before they strike again on either side of the shared borderline.

PC Steve Winn, the rural beat officer for the Harborough area, is leading the Leicestershire Police operation – and he suspects the string of fire attacks are all connected.

“We have had a spree of recent arson attacks on straw stacks on farms in the Welland Valley - and we think they must be linked because there are just too many.

“I went to see Northamptonshire Police’s rural crime team as well as the fire service last Wednesday and we will be swapping information and working together to catch the culprits,” said PC Winn.

“These terrible fires pose a massive threat to our local farming community in the Welland Valley.

“They are inflicting huge financial damage as well as causing real anxiety among worried farmers.

“This is catastrophic.

“We are doing all we can to catch the offenders before they start more fires.

“Call us straight away if you know someone who gets home through the night stinking of smoke or you see anything suspicious in and around our local farms.”

Four fire crews from Market Harborough, Kibworth, Wigston and Uppingham raced to Grange Farm in the early hours of Saturday.

Firefighters fought the ferocious inferno with two hose reel jets and were at Robert’s farm all of Saturday and into Sunday morning damping down.

“I went out there on Saturday morning to talk to the farmer and assess the scene,” said PC Winn, who’s based at Market Harborough.

“Straw is in very short supply anyway and is absolutely vital to feed livestock during the winter.

“So this continuing threat to our local farmers is about much more than financial loss.”

Cllr Phil Knowles, who leads the Liberal Democrats on Harborough council, said: “This is absolutely heartbreaking for farmers.

“They work so hard all year round to make a living and criminals come along and burn down their priceless stocks of straw.”

He added: “It’s just unforgivable.

“Our brave firefighters are also putting their lives on the line every time they turn out to fight these terrifying blazes.

“And what if there’s a serious house fire or car crash somewhere else on our patch in Harborough while firefighters are tied up battling fires on outlying farms started by these firebugs?

“Someone could be seriously injured or even killed – it doesn’t bear thinking about.”