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Last Updated:  Friday, 28 March, 2003, 18:37 GMT
West Pier destroyed by fire
West Pier on fire
CCTV footage is being reviewed in a bid to find out how the fire started
Firefighters have left the scene of a huge fire which tore through one of the remaining sections of the West Pier in Brighton.

The flames have left just the metal skeleton of the derelict pier standing.

The fire started in the old concert hall at about 0945 GMT on Friday and firefighters have said they believe it was started deliberately.

But Sussex Police say they are keeping an open mind about the cause until it is confirmed by fire investigators.

Earlier, Station Commander Phil Thompson, from Preston Circus Fire Station, said: "The fire is definitely of doubtful origin, there is no way it could have started on its own."

There must be suspicion, it is deliberate
Geoff Lockwood, West Pier Trust chief executive
There were rumours a speedboat seen in the area early on Friday could be connected to the fire.

But this was ruled out by the coastguard after a check of vessels entering and leaving Brighton Marina was carried out.

Police agreed and said they had traced the boat and eliminated it and those on board from their inquiries.

They said they were keen to trace any witnesses or anyone with information.

The force is reviewing CCTV footage in an effort to find out how the fire started.

Firefighters by the pier
Firefighters found it impossible to reach the flames from land
Firefighters had fought the flames from a number of boats, unable to access the fire from land due to the gap in the middle section of the structure.

They left the scene by 1500 GMT after an operation described as "effective".

An East Sussex Fire Brigade spokesman said the state of the tide and the loss of light had made it impossible to carry on the seaborne operation but that the brigade would continue to monitor the situation.

He said on Friday afternoon: "It is expected that the West Pier will continue to smoulder for some considerable time and it is not currently possible to place fire crews on the pier due to dangerous state of the structure."

Crowds of onlookers remained at the scene after the fire was brought under control, many taking photographs.

Fire will smoulder on

Security guards were deployed around the pier's entrance to keep the public away as a precaution.

Smoke from the fire began to engulf parts of Hove by mid-afternoon, blown there by a change in the direction of the wind.

Geoff Lockwood, chief executive of West Pier Trust, which owns the pier, said the fire would not hamper the redevelopment.

But he added: "We are puzzled by it. There's nothing combustible there, there is no electricity and there is no access from the land so how it started is a puzzle. There must be suspicion, it is deliberate."

The derelict West Pier is one of two piers in the city.

Brighton Pier was also hit by a fire in February which destroyed a fairground ride.

The West Pier
Part of the West Pier collapsed in December 2002
This fire comes only three months after part of the West Pier collapsed in the sea.

A walkway connecting the concert hall and pavilion fell into the sea in December after being battered by storms.

Bad weather caused further damage in January.

The pier - built in 1866 - has been in a state of disrepair for many years and has been closed to the public since 1975.

In February a 30m scheme to restore the derelict West Pier was approved by councillors at Brighton and Hove City Council.

Grade I listed pier

Although campaigners opposed to the scheme have vowed to fight for a public inquiry.

Many want to see the pier restored to its former glory but not in the design put forward by the West Pier Trust.

They say the planned development of cafes and bars at the promenade end of the Grade I listed pier would obstruct views of the sea.

On Friday Ken Bodfish, council leader said: "There was always going to be a substantial element of rebuilding rather than restoration.

"This will clearly mean far more rebuilding than envisaged."

If you take any digital images of the burning pier, by camera or phone, you can send them to us as yourpics@bbc.co.uk.

The BBC's Robert Hall
"It was quite simply an untouchable inferno"

In pictures: West Pier fire
28 Mar 03 |  Photo Gallery
Pier restoration plans approved
26 Feb 03 |  England
Pier re-opens after fire
05 Feb 03 |  England
Brighton Pier hit by fire
05 Feb 03 |  England
Brighton's West Pier collapses
29 Dec 02 |  England

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