AN ARSON attack during evensong at Chelmsford Cathedral, on Wednesday, could have devastated the building, had it not been for the quick thinking of one of the cathedral vergers, a spokeswoman said on Thursday.
Police were called to the cathedral at about 5.20 p.m after a verger, David Robinson, saw smoke coming from St Cedd’s Chapel, during the service, which was being led by children from St Cedd’s school choir.
“Using a fire extinguisher, he quickly contained and put out the fire,” a spokeswoman for the cathedral said. “Meanwhile the alarms went off and the children, staff and other service goers were calming evacuated.”
A prayer book had been used to light a fire under a Mothers’ Union banner, which has hung in the chapel since the 1980s, she said. It was completely destroyed. The names of two people believed to have been involved in the attack have been given to the police.
Essex Police have appealed for more information. A statement said: “Police received reports of a fire inside Chelmsford Cathedral, in New Street, at around 5.20 p.m yesterday, Wednesday, June 28. Officers were called after a banner was deliberately set alight. The building was evacuated and the chapel was temporally closed. No arrests have been made and enquiries are ongoing.”
The Dean of Chelmsford, the Very Revd Nicholas Henshall said: “It is very disappointing that anyone would find it appropriate to start a fire in a cathedral, let alone during our daily prayer. But I am delighted with the response of our staff, volunteers, and all those present at Evensong.
“Children and parents evacuated the building really effectively and fast, and once the fire had been tackled successfully, and despite the smoke-filled Cathedral, we all came back in and continued with the Psalms.”
St Cedd’s Chapel — one of two chapels in the cathedral — has been temporarily closed. It is primarily used as place of reflection in which people can light a candle for loved ones. The main building of the cathedral remains open.
Anyone with information is asked to contact Chelmsford Police station on 101 or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.