ARSONISTS are believed to be responsible for a fire which destroyed a stables in Tippendell Lane, Park Street, in the early hours of Monday, August 13.

Witnesses reported seeing two teenage boys dressed in shorts, running from the scene of the blaze at 1.15am. It destroyed four stables belonging to Mrs Doriel Watson of Penn Road.

Fortunately, no horses were in the stables at the time, but riding and grooming equipment owned by Mrs Watson and other young riders who share the paddock were destroyed.

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Two engines from St Albans attended the scene and spent 45 minutes extinguishing the flames, which were fuelled by hay stored in the wooden building.

Officers who re-visited the area later that day to dampen down and comb through the ashes, admitted they were treating the fire as suspicious although declined to speculate on its possible cause at this stage.

However, sub officer Tony Bates said: "Generally speaking a fire at that time of night with no visible source of ignition does look very suspicious."

Meanwhile, Mrs Watson praised the efforts of the first firefighters on the scene and insisted that she would not let the blaze disrupt daily life at the stables she has owned since 1995.

She said: "At least there were no horses in the stables, as we tend to keep them out in the open, but now there's nowhere for the sick and injured horses to go.

"And you can see the upset it's caused for the little children who come here to ride."

Many of the youngsters who had looked forward to spending their summer holidays on horseback were in tears when they saw the extent of the damage.

Eleven-year-old Camilla, who lost her hat, grooming box and whips in the blaze denounced the arsonists as "idiots" who could have easily killed or injured the grazing horses.

She said: "Tara, the horse I look after was in the stables just the other day and could have been killed. I can't understand why anyone would do this."

Mrs Watson, who had not insured the wooden stables estimated her losses as at least £2, 000 to £3,000, though expensive riding equipment stored in the outbuildings by other young riders is likely to push the final total even higher.

The stables have fallen prey to a spate of thefts in recent months, including rugs being stolen from a horse's back and prompting Mrs Watson to call for a "greater presence" by police officers at the secluded spot.

But her greatest fear is that St Albans District Council will refuse her permission to rebuild the outbuildings after what she describes as a "number of disputes" over the Green Belt land.

"I've had a lot of trouble with the council over these stables and I was worried that they may refuse me planning permission to rebuild because they are on Green Belt land," she said.

However a spokesman for St Albans District Council said that it would be inviting Mrs Watson to put forward ideas for rebuilding the temporary structure that would still be in keeping with the surrounding area.

On a positive note, Park Street residents have rallied round in the wake of the fire and Mrs Watson has already been approached by one man offering to replace some of the lost riding equipment.

An anonymous woman has also pledged to put up a £250 reward for information about the fire although the cash is yet to be handed to police.

Anyone with information on the blaze is asked to call police on 01727 796002.