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Residents of The Hive, Northfleet, describe nightmare of life plagued by arsonists

You’d be safer in the path of a wildfire - that’s the damning verdict of people living in a block of flats plagued by arsonists, hoaxes and false alarms.

Firefighters were called eight times to The Hive in Northfleet in the space of a week between Monday July 22 and Monday July 29, following several other call-outs to the same building earlier in July.

A series of rubbish fires was followed by blazes in the block’s bin chute and there have been hoaxes on three occasions where the alarm was set off without good cause.

Stock image.
Stock image.

Residents have also called firefighters after spotting remnants of smoke from previously extinguished fires, bringing sirens to the flats yet again.

While those calls may have been made in good faith, they are maybe a sign of a community living on shredded nerves - and some living in the building say existing on red-alert 24 hours a day, in the constant state of anxiety, is beginning to take its toll.

Ian Mercer, who lives on the seventh floor, said life at the Hive was an ongoing nightmare.

“My girlfriend used to live in Australia and worked doing first aid during wildfires,” he said. “She said she felt safer watching wildfires than she did here.

“A lot of people are suffering from PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder) - when we hear the fire engine coming or the police cars it doesn’t help. I’ve got mental health issues so this is just making my health a lot worse.

“Someone on the fifth floor I know is pretty much stuck and can barely move - she’s started to get PTSD as well.

“We always have false alarms here. It was kids setting fire to bins at first, then the arsonists were setting fire to black sacks that were left out in the communal hallway. They got rid of the black sacks last month and since then they’ve been setting fire to the bin chute.”

Mr Mercer said he had heard from police that a suspect was deliberately starting fires in an effort to get moved from the tower block, and that extra patrols were being provided by a security company and police.

“It’s been a while since the last fire so maybe it’s helping,” he added. “It doesn’t help that when the fire alarm goes off the fire system unlocks the main security door - obviously it’s to help people getting out, but then the door is left unlocked.

“It’s ridiculous that you’ve got people living here with health issues that need to be moved, but they’re more likely to move the troublemakers.”

Further issues had been caused by poor ventilation in the building - due to the fact flat windows could not be opened fully while renovation work took place.

“It’s a nightmare living here,” added Mr Mercer. “The estate is known as far away as Bristol as somewhere you don’t want to live.”

Flats at the The Hive, Northfleet, the site of repeat fires, false alarms and hoaxes (14659673)
Flats at the The Hive, Northfleet, the site of repeat fires, false alarms and hoaxes (14659673)

Others living nearby said they feared for those inside the block.

“Last week the fire engines were there a lot,” said one man on the estate, who asked not to be named. “They’re always coming to this building.

“It seems to happen quite a lot at night time. It’s not such a problem for me but it is for residents who live there - they’re saying they’re scared.

“I think last year they put in a sprinkler system but it’s still worrying.”

Another stated: “It’s three or four times a day sometimes. It’s annoying but for people living there it’s bad because there was a point where they couldn’t open their windows. They couldn’t open them because of the scaffolding.

“My friend is trying to move his mother out because she’s ill and elderly - it’s difficult for her to move around.”

Kent Fire and Rescue Service say firefighters first attended The Hive on Monday, July 22 and then a further seven times until Monday, July 29.

On two occasions crews extinguished a fire in the base of the bin chute and both fires are being treated as suspicious.

No arrests have been made but inquiries to establish the full circumstances are ongoing and officers are keen to speak to anyone who has information.

"It’s annoying but for people living there it’s bad because there was a point where they couldn’t open their windows..."

Sergeant Carli Deacon, from Kent Police’s Gravesham Community Safety Unit, said: “Arson is a serious offence that endangers life and risks causing substantial damage to properties.

“We are working closely with the fire service and Gravesham Borough Council to share safety advice with residents and our officers have also attended the site, alongside council staff, to speak with people living in the area.”

Addressing concerns over ventilation the Gravesham Council said communal windows could still be opened and air vents throughout the corridors also improved airflow.

A statement added: "The extent to which the communal windows can be opened had to be restricted because items were being set on fire and thrown from the communal windows onto the scaffolding.

"Gravesham Borough Council continues to work closely with the Kent Fire & Rescue Service to ensure that current fire detection, protection and fire emergency arrangements are in place for the safety of our residents and to help provide residents with fire safety advice. The council is also working closely with Kent Police to engage with residents through door to door visits to obtain information regarding who is responsible for the recent fires."

They said the works being completed at the Hive include roofing replacement works, window replacements and external and internal redecoration works.

Anyone with information on recent fires should call police on 01474 366149, quoting 46/142133/19, or the anonymous Crimestoppers hotline on 0800 555111 or by completing an online form at Crimestoppers-uk.org.

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