Cinema boss vows to reopen by Christmas

THE manager of a cinema that was badly damaged in a suspected arson attack has vowed to reopen the site by Christmas.

Elliot Furniss

THE manager of a cinema that was badly damaged in a suspected arson attack has vowed to reopen the site by Christmas.

David Marsh has overseen a turnaround in the fortunes of the Regal Theatre in Stowmarket since he took over two years ago, but that progress is now hanging in the balance after the attraction was targeted by arsonists on Wednesday night.

Mr Marsh, who had only locked up the cinema for the night about half an hour before the emergency services were called, said he was hopeful that the affects of the fire, which saw the screen and sound system damaged beyond repair, would not take long to reverse.

He said: “Last year was the best for the cinema for six or seven years and so far this year was proving even better - we were looking at record-breaking attendances.

“But we have had so many kind words from people phoning in this morning.

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“It's a much-loved building and the people who work here, for them it isn't just a job. We had staff here in tears last night; they do it for the love of film and the place.

“We really don't know how long it will be at the moment, but we will re-open.”

He said that many of the events scheduled at the 200-seat theatre over the next few months would have to be postponed or rearranged but unless there was any major damage that had yet to emerge, he was optimistic of re-opening the site by Christmas.

Shortly after fire crews arrived on the scene at about 10.30pm it became clear that there was a risk of a gas explosion and nearby residents were evacuated from their homes.

Surrounding streets were cordoned off by police and fire crews managed to get the blaze under control, restricting the damage to the 1930s-built auditorium.

Caroline Chapman was one of several people who were moved temporarily to the safety of the Duke's Head pub just a short distance away.

She said: “I first noticed it when I was going up the stairs at about 10pm and saw some smoke and thought 'that's someone burning something'. It wasn't long after they closed up.

“I called the fire service - I think several of us did. We were evacuated for about three hours, we just went to the Duke's Head across the Regal car park.

“It (the cinema) is close to all the houses and people were concerned. They (pub staff) were very decent there and it was better than going to the church or the WI - it was a bit of an event.”

A fire service spokesman said the blaze was being treated as suspicious and the matter would be passed on to the police for further investigation.

A police spokesman said CCTV was now being studied and the scene had been examined by scenes of crime officers.