Published: 13:30, 16 April 2020
| Updated: 14:48, 16 April 2020
A retired Gurkha's car was torched in what his family believe is a coronavirus-related hate crime.
The family of the former serviceman were left terrified when they heard an explosion outside their Maidstone home at around 11pm last night. They emerged to find their family car on fire.
Now members of the wider family - many of whom are working in the NHS on the frontline against Covid-19 - say they fear further attacks against the town's Asian communities.
Angela Limbu, niece of security guard Ram Kumar Limbu whose Ford Focus was targeted in Elmstone Lane, found out about the incident from her cousins while on shift as a healthcare assistant at Maidstone Hospital. A second vehicle - a van also belonging to a Nepalese family - caught fire in nearby Fant Lane shortly after.
Video: Milan Limbu says his father's car was set on fire
The 23-year-old medical student, who has signed up to work part time at the hospital while university is suspended, said: "I was sitting down on my shift and then I got a call from my cousin and he was just really angry, he was sending me photos.
"He was telling me 'it’s finally happened, we got attacked'. He was just so shocked, he heard some people shouting names and he just thought 'well, it’s probably just people calling us names as usual'.
"But then he heard like a firework explosion and he said at first he thought it was just fireworks, but then when he started to see flames from the window he got up and he thought 'that’s our car!' And he woke his parents up and that’s it, that’s when he found out it was their car."
Kent Fire and Rescue Service arrived at the Elmstone Lane blaze shortly after 11pm last night and they believe the fire is suspicious. An hour after the first fire was put out, fire crews returned to Fant Lane to deal with the second vehicle alight.
Ms Limbu says members of the Nepalese community in the county town have experienced a rise in animosity since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic began in China.
She said: "You know because of social media, we’ve seen around the world, just random people, not even Chinese people but if you are just simply Asian, you see a lot in social media that people are just getting attacked.
"Even if my dad goes to the local supermarket we’re always telling him 'make sure you cover yourself', because as Asians we get the stereotypical view that 'oh, they're Chinese. they've brought coronavirus to the UK'. So we’re always being very cautious.
"We can't even go for our one-hour walk before someone calls us 'Chinese, go back to your own country' or 'stop eating bats', comments like that. And I think it’s just uneducated people really, isn’t it.
"And that's why today as soon as I came home, we're planning to take our car elsewhere, because we just live five minutes from my cousins. And everyone is thinking, you know, what next? Is it going to be our house next that they’re going to throw fire at?"
Maidstone borough councillor Dinesh Khadka told KentOnline he was aware of the incidents which took place overnight and that Kent Police are investigating.
He said: "This is rather disappointing news for the entire Nepalese community, as well as the whole community in Maidstone. Especially in this difficult time of pandemic when we all need to work together and help each other, which is happening across the borough.
"Amidst the community vibes, such attacks make everyone, especially targeted communities, more worried and vulnerable."
Kent Police officers are treating the cause of the fires as suspicious and are completing house-to-house enquiries in the area, while the scenes are being forensically examined.
Inspector Mark Hedges, of Maidstone’s community safety unit, said: "We suspect the fires were started deliberately and are very keen to hear from anyone who may have seen anything unusual or suspicious.
"I would also appeal to nearby residents, who have not yet spoken to my officers, to check any CCTV they may have outside their homes."
Anyone with information is asked to call Kent Police on 01622 604100 quoting crime reference 46/65247/20.