THERE was disappointment and anger for visitors to King George V playing fields over the half-term holiday last week when a suspected arson attack forced the closure of the splashpad.
On what were some of the hottest days of the year so far – after weeks of rain – the park’s popular waterplay attraction was closed for eight days to allow for the town council to carry out tests to ensure the water was safe for use.
The closure frustrated countless numbers of families who had planned to visit the park over the holidays.
“It was very disappointing for my six-year old when we found out,” said one local parent. “She was so looking foward to going. And the weather was perfect – it was the first decent opportunity this year to use the splashpad!”
The splashpad was closed after the fire on Sunday 30th May, when a picnic bench – located outside the pavilion and next to the splashpad – was set on fire – the blaze also caused damage to the exterior of the pavilion.
Police arrested a 13-year-old local boy on suspicion of arson the next day, who was later released on bail. The police are now carrying out a detailed investigation. Two teenage girls who raised the alarm about the fire, and a unknown boy who pulled the burning bench away from the building, have been praised by the police for their quick-thinking and bravery.
The fire took place in the same week that it was announced by local police that tackling youth anti-social behaviour in a number of local parks – including King George V – is to be a priority over the next 12 months.
Local police reported, “At around 9.10pm on Sunday (30/05) we received a call from the fire service relating to a fire at the King George V playing fields in Melksham.
“A fire, which is believed to have been started deliberately, had occurred on some benches close to the recently opened splashpad, and the heat of the blaze had caused damage to the exterior of the nearby café.
“Yesterday (31/05) a 13-year-old local boy was arrested on suspicion of arson. He was interviewed and has been released on conditional bail while our enquiries continue.”
Inspector Gill Hughes, from the local community policing team added, “We know that the damage caused by this fire will have caused great upset and frustration amongst the local community, as this was a facility which had only recently been opened and would have been well-used over the bank holiday weekend.
“I would like to thank those members of the public who intervened, including two girls who called the fire brigade and a boy who pulled the bench away from the building – their actions undoubtedly stopped the fire spreading and developing in scale, and prevented a much larger and more dangerous blaze.
“I want to reassure you that we are carrying out a detailed investigation and have already made an arrest, so please allow us to continue to pursue these lines of enquiry.
“However, if you witnessed anything or you have information which could assist our enquiries, then please come forward and speak to us.”
Anyone with information should call Wiltshire Police on 101, quoting crime reference 54210051774. Alternatively you can call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555111.
The splashpad has now reopened – turning the waterworks back on this week, on Tuesday 8th June.
Picture: A picnic bench is set ablaze outside the pavilion in King George V playing fields. Photo by Robert Menghini.