Page last updated at 08:41 GMT, Saturday, 12 December 2009

Thirty years since the first Welsh holiday home arson


Thirty years on police say they may investigate a spate of arson attacks by a group calling itself Meibion Glyndwr

Police say they have not ruled out a new investigation into the Welsh holiday homes arson campaign, which began 30 years ago this weekend.

Over a period of 12 years from 1979, what became known as the Meibion Glyndwr arson campaign saw 228 attacks.

One person was convicted of sending fire bombs through the post in 1993.

But some doubted the extent of Sion Aubrey Roberts' involvement as he would have been seven when the campaign began.

An ex-policeman, working on the case at the time, said the attacks were carried out by a small "tight" group.

Canon Geraint Meirion Roberts' home was badly damaged in a Meibion Glyndwr attack
(It) made me feel a lot better, that I was part of a political campaign rather than a personal vendetta
Canon Geraint Meirion Roberts, home owner

Claims of responsibility for the attacks came in phone calls and letters from "Rhys Gethin, Meibion Glyndwr (Sons of Glendower).

Midway through the campaign a house at Rhosgadfan near Caernarfon was set alight.

At the time it was owned by Canon Geraint Meirion Roberts, who was a vicar in Surrey.

He is now semi-retired and lives at the property full time.

"It was a horrid thing in so much as I just wondered if it was someone who knew me personally - a neighbour who'd poured petrol through the letter box or whatever," he said.

He was reassured by the police that it was "professional arsonists", he added.

"They'd come, set the devices, go to change their clothes, burn their clothes, then find themselves in a pub or other public place when the place went up in flames," he said.

"That actually made me feel a lot better, that I was part of a political campaign rather than a personal vendetta," he added.

The attacks focused on a problem of affordable housing in rural Wales for which "wealthy incomers" were blamed.

An arson-damaged house
13 December 1979: First four arsons in Nefyn on the Llyn peninsula and Pembrokeshire. In the first wave, eight English-owned holiday cottages were destroyed within a month.
Estate agents and caravans, as well as second homes, were targeted
Welsh Office figures showed in 1988 there were more than 20,000 holiday homes, the majority in Welsh-speaking areas
Sion Aubrey Roberts, then 21 of Llangefni, was jailed for 12 years in 1993 for posting letter bombs but many other cases were left unsolved
In 2004, North Wales Police said they planned to reopen their investigation

Targets were not just properties used as holiday homes, but also estate agents offices, boat yards and caravans.

The first attacks were on 13 December 1979 with four in one night - two in Pembrokeshire and two in north west Wales.

The devices used became more sophisticated over the years.

Alwyn Gruffydd was a journalist working in north west Wales at the time.

"Up to this day I have no idea who could be responsible for these burnings," he said.

"But they happened, we know it happened, and the police had a special unit investigating the burnings. But yet they've failed even to find who was responsible," he added.

Eventually one man was jailed in 1993 for sending fire bombs through the post.

Some argued however about the extent of Sion Aubrey Roberts' involvement because he would have been seven years old when the campaign began.

In the early 1980s Gareth Jones was a detective in the police unit investigating the fires.

He says there were very few leads.

"The fact there was no information forthcoming was due to the fact that these were operating (in) very, very small groups, and that no-one else knew what was going on," he said.

Mr Jones added that usually with major crimes a girlfriend or wife who have had a quarrel, or whatever, with their partner will come forward and say something.

"On these occasions there was nothing forthcoming and that is why I say it was very, very tightly controlled," he said.

The campaign came to an end in the early 1990s, as mysteriously as it started, with those behind it still unknown.

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