A FIRE which gutted a former social club at the centre of a controversial planning application was probably started deliberately.

Police revealed yesterday that, although the cause into Friday’s early morning blaze at Shotton Lane Social Club is yet to be determined, arson is believed to have been responsible.

The disused club had been earmarked to be converted into an Islamic Cultural Centre by the Flintshire Muslim Cultural Society, prompting protests in recent weeks by members of groups, including the English Defence League and the British National Party.

Detective Chief Inspector Graham Talbot said: “A structural engineer has assessed the building over the weekend and it is unsafe for anyone to enter.

“Once the site is safe to enter, further forensic examination will be carried out.

“I am therefore unable to establish at this time whether deliberate ignition was the cause. However, it is suspected at this stage and the investigation is being treated
as such.”

The fire led to dozens of residents of the Shotton Lane area needing to be evacuated, with fire crews spending several hours tackling the inferno that destroyed much of the building.

In the wake of the fire, cultural society chairman Mohammed Munchab Ali described his organisation’s plans to build the new centre on the site as “back to square one”, but said they would be liaising with the authorities on the issue.

The incident has led to political figures speaking out against the actions of those behind the attack if it was deliberate.

North Wales AM Janet Ryder said: “We obviously do not know the full details of what has happened and the last thing that we want to do is create unnecessary tensions in the community.

“However, there are some concerns about the potential motives and I’m confident that North Wales Police will investigate this matter fully.

“The local community needs to respond positively and calmly to this situation and ensure that the local Muslim community receives the support it needs at this time.”

Alyn and Deeside MP Mark Tami expressed his sadness at the incident, believing the only people who would be pleased at the 98-year-old building’s decline were “extremists” who had promoted a “culture of hate and division” in the Shotton area by opposing the planned centre.

Meanwhile, Shotton Town Council last night heaped praise on the emergency services in the aftermath of the blaze.

Councillor Ron Davies told a meeting in Rivertown Church, Shotton: “I think we should commend the police and fire service for their efforts at Shotton Lane Club.

“The fire brigade acted quickly and the social services were also brilliant at sorting everyone out and making sure they had somewhere safe to stay.”

Sgt Tony Heaword, who was also at the meeting, said that he would keep the council updated on developments.

Anyone with information about the fire should call North Wales Police on 101 or 0845 6071002 or Crimestoppers in confidence on 0800 555 111.