UK: Arson attack on Jehovah’s Witness hall

Only the walls of a Jehovah’s Witness hall are left standing after an arson attack.

Five fire crews tackled the blaze at the Kingdom Hall of Jehovah’s Witnesses, Watling Street, Dartford, at 11.30pm on April 19.

The building was empty at the time but firefighters had to battle to stop it spreading to surrounding buildings.

Gerald Tobias, who is in charge of rebuilding the hall, says it was destroyed by the fire.

The 59-year-old from Hurstpierpoint, Sussex, said: “The brick walls are still there but we examined them on the Saturday and the back wall is cracked and a side wall is swollen. It will have to be demolished.”

Mr Tobias is chairman of the Jehovah’s Witness regional building committee for the south east, which looks after around 100 buildings in the region.

He is expecting the hall to be demolished in the next few weeks and to be rebuilt and reopened in three months.

Mr Tobias added: “I helped build it in the first place and we’d just been down there the previous night, ironically, commenting it looked as good as new.

“It could have been an awful lot worse because two hours before the fire there were about 60 people inside.”

Mr Tobias says the hall’s congregation will move temporarily to the Kingdom Hall in London Road, Swanley.

The new Dartford hall will be paid for using funds collected from Jehovah’s Witnesses worldwide.

Mr Tobias said: “A lot of our funds are being used to build kingdom halls in Africa and Eastern Europe and it’s a pity funds will have to be diverted.”

The rebuilding work will be done using the organisation’s database of volunteers.

Mr Tobias added: “The congregation is determined to do what it can to get the hall back up as quickly as possible.”

The hall was built by volunteers in 1999.

It is used by the Darenth Valley and Heathside congregations.

Jill Edwardes, an administrator at electrical wholesaler Edwardes Brothers Ltd, based in Watling Street, was shocked when she saw the damage to the hall.

The 42-year-old said: “The whole of the roof has gone.

“I think the place must have been completely gutted.

“It’s a great shame if they have to rebuild it again.

“They built it all up together in the first place and it’s only lasted about seven years.”

Dartford councillor Nancy Wightman, who represents Brent ward, said: “I’m very saddened by the news, especially as it is a very new building.”

A spokesman for Kent Fire and Rescue Service says the fire is believed to have been started using matches.

And a spokesman for north Kent police said: “We are investigating it as an arson.”

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Religion News Blog posted this on Wednesday April 25, 2007.
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