Middleton Guardian defies arson attack

A firebomb ripped through a weekly newspaper office in Greater Manchester this week but the paper came out as normal thanks to emergency plans put in place after the New York terrorist attack in 2001.

Arsonists torched the offices of the Middleton and North Manchester Guardian late on Monday night though no one was hurt. It is thought that petrol was poured through a letterbox before being set alight in a deliberate attack.

But the paper’s parent group, the Guardian Media Group-owned Manchester Evening News Weekly Newspapers Group, had a contingency plan in place that allows any of its papers to publish during an emergency.

The Middleton paper is the first in the group to use the disaster recovery plan, in which a bank of computers was set up for use immediately after the blaze.

The paper’s staff were moved to a purpose-built office at a secret location in Greater Manchester, where they could access the pages and files already made and the Tuesday deadline was met as normal.

Guardian editor Gerry Sammon said: ‘Whoever did this wanted to stop the Middleton Guardian being published this week. Our disaster recovery plan was immediately put into operation with minimal disruption to news gathering and production.

‘We haven’t missed an edition yet, and the coward who did this will be sadly disappointed that we are out this week as normal and on time. We won’t be intimidated.”

Deon Webber, the firefighter who assessed the scene, said: ‘It was a bad fire that has caused structural damage to the front of the office and fire and heat damage to the reception area. There has also been a large amount of smoke damage to the rest of the office.”

Webber said that a fire investigation dog, Cracker, helped fire crews determine that the fire was started deliberately.

The fire started near the building’s electricity meter, which popped and fizzed as firefighters entered, forcing them to tackle the blaze through a hole they had cut in the window.

After engineers from United Utilities switched off the electricity supply, 14 firefighters worked for two-and-a-half hours to put out the blaze, and a crew remained at the scene throughout the night to make sure the area was secure.

The offices will take at least two months to refurbish and the editorial team will be based at the safe house until then.

Since the fire, readers have been sending messages of support to staff, who were today sifting through the burnt-out office for personal items.

The paper is now working with police on a list of possible suspects and has appealed for any witnesses to come forward.

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