A FIRE which seriously damaged a vicarage where the disgraced sham marriage vicar used to live is being treated as arson.
The blaze was discovered on Tuesday morning after smoke was seen coming out of the house in Blomfield Road, St Leonards. The vicarage has been empty since September when Rev Alex Brown was jailed for four years for conducting hundreds of bogus weddings at St Peter’s Church off Bohemia Road to allow foreign nationals to cheat the immigration system.
But the Observer understands that although police have launched an arson investigation, officers do not believe the fire had any connection with its former tenant nor his crimes.
Neighbour Rob Wakeford raised the alarm after smelling smoke as he left for work shortly before 7am. “I saw it was coming from the vicarage,” he said. “It looked like it had been burning for most of the night - it wasn’t very dramatic.”
Two fire crews from the Bohemia Road station went to the scene and firefighters spent about an hour bringing the flames under control. A spokesman for East Sussex Fire and Rescue Service said it had caused ‘significant’ damage to the property.
Its investigators joined a police forensic team to carry out a full examination of the scene, and it is thought the fire could have been burning for about six hours before it was discovered.
One possible theory is that youngsters or homeless people had been using the vicarage since it was abandoned and could be responsible.
Police would like to hear from anyone who saw anything suspicious in or around the vicarage on Monday night or in the early hours of Tuesday morning, or hear about anyone seen using the building over recent weeks.
They can be contacted on 0845 60 70 999 or alternatively people can ring Crimestoppers on 0800 555111.
Rev Brown was jailed along with Ukrainian fixer Vladymyr Buchak and immigration solicitor Michael Adelasoye after a seven-week trial at Lewes Crown Court.
The Church of England announced it was shutting St Peter’s Church shortly after the trial, but it does still own the vicarage.