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Video & gallery: Huge fire at St Michael’s Church in Ipswich ‘suspicious’

PUBLISHED: 09:07 09 March 2011 | UPDATED: 15:25 09 March 2011

Firefighters check the roof of St Michael's Church after it began smouldering again

Firefighters check the roof of St Michael's Church after it began smouldering again

Archant

FIRE investigators are “99 per cent sure” that a blaze which ripped through a church in Ipswich was started deliberately.

The fire at St Michael’s Church in Upper Orwell Street has left the Victorian building structurally unsafe.

An inspection of the remains of the vacant church by experts has revealed the roof is too unstable for fire investigators to enter the building.

A spokeswoman for Suffolk police said at this stage it is thought the fire started in the rear of the church shortly after 10pm on Monday.

She said: “The roof is very unstable and so it is too dangerous to enter the building at this stage.

“It looks like the fire was started at the rear of the church and spread straight to the roof.”

Today the owner of the dilapidated Victorian church said the community’s “dream is over”, after 25 years of savings and fundraising “went up in flames”, revealing his has no insurance.

Muhammad Manwar Ali, chief executive of Jimas, the organisation that owns the building, was at the forefront of plans to transform the church into a £1million Muslim-run community centre.

Dismayed, Mr Ali returned to the scene this morning as fire investigators and a building inspector assessed the extent of the damage.

The roof is completely destroyed and parts of the church were still burning, according to firefighters.

Tragically, the site was not insured and owner Mr Manwar Ali is set to lose the £350,000 he paid for the church last year out of his own life savings, fundraising and loans from friends.

And plans to spend up to £1 million over the next few years on transforming the run-down site have been shelved as the building teeters on the brink of collapse.

But incredibly, Mr Manwar Ali said that even if the police did manage to track down those responsible, he would rather invite them round for a cup of coffee than see them go to prison.

He said: “The foolish things is we hadn’t insured it. Hopefully there is nobody who has been harmed or hurt – there could have been somebody inside.

“I will forgive them (those responsible) and let them know I don’t want to see them in prison.

“They can come and have free coffee in our shop.”

He stressed that the church would have become a community centre, not a mosque, and that it would have been open to everyone in Ipswich.

He said: “We were not doing it for business or to make money for ourselves, even if people find that hard to believe.

“It wasn’t a Muslin or Asian thing – it would have been a fantastic place for Ipswich.”

If you were in the area and saw or heard anything suspicious, or if you have information about how the fire started please call Ds Michael Brown at Ipswich CID on 01473 613500.

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29 comments

  • I think it is a massive shame what has happened to the church. I know the owner personally and his vision was to create a place were all people, regardless of race,background, or belief could meet and get on. I just hope that with whatever happens, it will all be for the best, and the idea can still be realised. We all need to come together as a community and make this work.

    Report this comment

    Alex

    Tuesday, March 8, 2011

  • Not insured?????? What in this day and age blimey. How can some people be so blasé. If I had invested £350,00 and planned to spend upwards of another million the first thing on my mind would be insurance. Ipswich has lost a great building but I cannot feel sorry for the owner.

    Report this comment

    Mr T

    Tuesday, March 8, 2011

  • This is a sad day for Ipswich another little piece of our history maybe gone. Lets hope that it might be repaired. As spoken by a true long term Ipswich boy through and through!

    Report this comment

    richard wisbey

    Tuesday, March 8, 2011

  • Mr Ali was actually trying to do something positive of the Town . The building was listed so insurance would have been an issue. Don't knock the man, at least he was trying to improve the toilet that is our town centre. Maggie May has the right idea compared to some of you !

    Report this comment

    GetaGrip

    Tuesday, March 8, 2011

  • A garden will not work and it was not an eye sore. the only way it can be saved is if it is put like greyfriars church near the NCP car park, have the ruins like that and show where everything used to be. Historical as it was and wish that people would see the importance of our most historical parts of town. here's a question..what if it was Christchurch Mansion on fire??? that would have to be knocked down as it would have been gone for good, and would you negative people call it an eyesore and glad that it gone?? I wouldn't because it part of history, get a grip and stop being ignorant and appreciate the history of this town and this country.

    Report this comment

    JayB

    Wednesday, March 9, 2011

  • i have a feeling all this area will be another no go area this town is going down and nothing we will say or do will help. good bye ipswich town or should i say the drop in centre for all from other countries

    Report this comment

    lee chelsea mundy

    Tuesday, March 8, 2011

  • The site will be filled with a religious building as to its use i will let you decide.

    Report this comment

    clive hart

    Wednesday, March 9, 2011

  • As this magnificent piece of Victorian heritage now looks set to be demolished I'll be watching any planning applications for this valuable site with great interest and lovers of the town centre should do likewise. What fills the space must be appropriate to the needs of shoppers, visitors and all local residents and not just something which fills IBC's coffers.

    Report this comment

    SuffolkLIberty

    Tuesday, March 8, 2011

  • i think we all no what will happen to this site yet another car park no doubt,like many other buildings that have disappeared over the years and been flattened you only have to look round by the docks to see how many car parks there are,ipswich is a disgrace

    Report this comment

    maria stu

    Wednesday, March 9, 2011

  • Mr T and Splurt - well done on your outpouring of Christian spirit!!! Would the Evening Star consider opening a fund for people to contribute to so that this project can still be realised?

    Report this comment

    Maggie May

    Tuesday, March 8, 2011

  • I didn't know about JIMAS's plans and it's a real shame if they've all gone up in smoke. It was good to read Mr Ali's statement and the comments supporting his plans. This is exactly what Ipswich needs - not ugly right wing views. Hopefully the whole community can now pull together and help JIMAS to rescue its project.

    Report this comment

    Steve Simpleton

    Monday, March 14, 2011

  • Perhaps those who burned the Remembrance Day Poppies in London on Armistice Day would like to contribute to the proposed fund.

    Report this comment

    Brian Betts

    Wednesday, March 9, 2011

  • Although not condoning arson for one moment, I just hope this property isn't going to be repaired with tax payers money, as it was the owners fault it was not insured. As pc plod says, another eyesore for Ipswich but could it not be levelled and made into gardens.

    Report this comment

    ged scott

    Tuesday, March 8, 2011

  • I am Manwar, CEO of JIMAS who 'owns' St. Michael's Church. Anyone who has or had any misgivings please drop us an email at mail@jimas.org and one day, soon, we can get together in a public meeting where you can come and converse with me about it. JIMAS and I have nothing to hide, we are open, not interested in being too politically correct, always fully wanted to include everyone in town (friends or foe), have support of the CofE clergy, and certainly appreciate certain perceptions and realities that cause concern to us as people in the UK... The Church would have been restored, already offered for Christian worship for free to anyone should they wish, free access given to anyone who worshipped there and so much more that "Be Realistic" has written. I don't know who the author behind that is but let us please let it become a manifest symbol of pride and culture for ALL in Ipswich.

    Report this comment

    Manwar

    Sunday, March 13, 2011

  • My mother was christened at St Michael’s and although derelict this church was still a church with some lovely features. The stained glass windows were beautiful and are now lost forever. The perpetrators of this fire should feel ashamed of themselves. As for IBC isn't it high time you got your act together and started attracting new businesses into this very run down area of town. Mr Ali was making an effort for everyone for no financial gain, and I applaud him for that. As for no insurance, Mr Ali will never forget the day he chose not insure the church but what is done is done and no amount of money will replace the history this church held within the community.

    Report this comment

    Gez

    Wednesday, March 9, 2011

  • just hope they do not expect us to rebuild it. with money which could be use else where.

    Report this comment

    splurt

    Tuesday, March 8, 2011

  • Most of you appear to misunderstand the intentions of Mr Ali. Firstly the church had been derelict for 12 years when it was purchased. It was purchased to create a community centre for the whole of Ipswich community, especially those less fortunate than many of us. As the building is Grade 2 listed, insurance was a problem as the exact use needed to be recorded in order to insure it.. and permissions had yet to be granted for change of use. The building being Grade 2 listed had to be restored and could not be structurally altered. Mr Ali purchased the property knowing this and rather than let the building be derelict for futher years, causing a greater eyesore, had intended to make a positive change to the community by purchasing it. It is unfortunate that an arson attack had to take place for people to make negative comments about the building - which I believe has stood there for over 130 years! Inconvenience and disruption have been unavoidably caused which was not the fault of Mr Ali. Whoever started the fire played a big part in this! Now we know the intentions that Mr Ali had, to build a community centre for the whole of Ipswich and surrounding communities, we should, instead of talking about what has happened, we should concentrate on the future. To say you don't feel sorry for Mr Ali is like saying you don't care about the whole of Ipswich community! Remember, we have learnt that the building was to be restyled to house a community centre for the WHOLE community. If you have ever attended a party - wedding, birthday, christening in a hall. If you have ever had a karate lesson, been to an aerobics class, attended a baby and toddler group in a hall. If you've ever been to a first aid course, a cookery demonstration, a floristry class, in a hall. If you've ever sat in a coffee shop, browsed a gift shop or been to vote.... this was for the WHOLE community. Wake up people of Ipswich and see what we could be losing.. this would be a great development for the town centre!!!

    Report this comment

    Be Realistic

    Saturday, March 12, 2011

  • Splurt - there is no need to make a comment which has no depth to it, the majority of people would be happy to contribute towards such an amazing project, it’s not a government project where you are expected to fork out i.e. increase council tax etc., it’s a personal project who welcome the idea of making the community closer as well as developing the town. For those of you who are moaning about it being an 'eye sore', you obviously don’t know what was going on behinds the scenes, a lot of hard work and preparation wasis going on to refurbish the building. Mr Ali is one of a kind and we here in Ipswich, are very lucky to have such a sincere person, who will put his all into bringing the community closer.

    Report this comment

    Support

    Tuesday, March 8, 2011

  • LIKE I HAVE SAID BEFORE , THIS HAS BEEN A BIG EYE -SORE IN THAT STREET FOR YEARS , NOW LETS HOPE IT IS FLATTENED AND SOMETHING MODERN GOES UP IN ITS PLACE.

    Report this comment

    pablo gonzalas

    Tuesday, March 8, 2011

  • Perhaps the site could provide a night shelter for the town's growing number of homeless people. If a proper night shelter isn't a possibility, maybe then the site could be cleared and the homeless could pitch their tents there instead of in the church yard behind Fore Street swimming pool. The people who sleep in the town's shop doorways might also be able to find shelter there too.

    Report this comment

    martha farquhar

    Wednesday, March 9, 2011

  • maggie may money will be better spent on something modern for the town which every one can use.

    Report this comment

    splurt

    Tuesday, March 8, 2011

  • It's bad news about the insurance. The building was an absolute disgrace when it was just derelict, now I suppose it will be standing there as a burnt-out shell, another eyesore for Ipswich. The whole area is a disaster, with the old Barnes furniture shop opposite in a state of disrepair, the Odeon standing empty, the Co-op ditto ... Ipswich really didn't need this as well.

    Report this comment

    PC Plod

    Tuesday, March 8, 2011

  • why has it been empty for so long no insurance as usual it would have proberly cost not much esspecially when hes paid so much for it

    Report this comment

    jennifer sharpe

    Tuesday, March 8, 2011

  • A garden will not work and it was not an eye sore. the only way it can be saved is if it is put like greyfriars church near the NCP car park, have the ruins like that and show where everything used to be. Historical as it was and wish that people would see the importance of our most historical parts of town. here's a question..what if it was Christchurch Mansion on fire??? that would have to be knocked down as it would have been gone for good, and would you negative people call it an eyesore and glad that it gone?? I wouldn't because it part of history, get a grip and stop being ignorant and appreciate the history of this town and this country.

    Report this comment

    JayB

    Wednesday, March 9, 2011

  • This is very bad news for Ipswich that a fire has occurred in an area that is already suffering from neglect and empty premises. A shame too that it is a listed building. A lot of negative people on here don't seem to appreciate the fact that it is an historical building. As Maggie May says, let's hope something can be done to salvage the building but I fear the damage is too great and another part of Ipswich's heritage will be gone forever. The arsonists have struck again! All-too-common these days, I might add.

    Report this comment

    Ken M

    Tuesday, March 8, 2011

  • JayB - I can assure you the building certainly was an eyesore, and has been for many years. Perhaps you've just become accustomed to the sight of dereliction if you spend any time in the Upper Orwell Street area, which is almost Dickensian in its squalor. And may I add, there is a big difference between the ruins of a medieval church like those in Foundation Street and the burnt-out shell of a disused Victorian church. Unfortunately if the owner is not insured we may be looking at this eyesore for many years to come.

    Report this comment

    PC Plod

    Wednesday, March 9, 2011

  • @Maggie May - For one thing I am an atheist (very proud Atheist). As to you saying a fund should be started, I can only ask why??? Why fund a building that was not insured? How about funding the fire service, police, Ipswich Borough Council and the businesses that lost money. I can only imagine how much last night cost local businesses, Money that could have spent on more productive things.

    Report this comment

    Mr T

    Tuesday, March 8, 2011

  • Ged Scott - a garden is the WORST idea. It will just be a magnet for the street drinking vagrants, junkies and other no hopers . We need to clean this town up !

    Report this comment

    GetaGrip

    Tuesday, March 8, 2011

  • It is a great shame that the building was uninsured but I'm sure there are others out there that are not 100% perfect. Hardly a murmur when an uninsured driver maims someone! At least this man had a vision which is more than can be said about most of the residents of Ipswich! I for one feel sorry for him and wish him well!

    Report this comment

    Wendiwych

    Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The views expressed in the above comments do not necessarily reflect the views of this site

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