Police are investigating a suspected arson attack in the early hours at the former home of a man accused of child sex offences.

Fire crews were called to the mid-terraced house in Princes Road, Ellesmere Port, next door to Victoria Daniels Hair Salon, just after 1am today (Wednesday) where they found a blaze in the front living room.

The two storey property has been vacant since last November but is understood to have been previously occupied by a man facing a trial on child sex abuse charges at Chester Crown Court.

It is not known at this stage whether there is any link between the suspected arson attack and fact that the alleged sex offender used to live in the house.

Cheshire Constabulary, who are investigating, say the fire “is believed to be deliberate”. Two men were seen running from rear of the address towards Victoria Road.

Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service sent three engines to the incident. Four firefighters wearing breathing apparatus used two hose reel jets to investigate the blaze which involved two sofas but was “quickly” extinguished.

The blaze generated thick black smoke which spread to the roof void and adjacent properties, triggering an evacuation as a precaution. A powerful fan was used to clear the smoke.

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The next door Victoria Daniels Hair Salon was unable to open until midday.

Business owner Vicky Robinson said she received a text message in the early hours and went to the scene because she initially feared the fire involved her salon.

She said a young couple had to evacuate from the upstairs flat because of the smoke and the woman was “crying her eyes out outside”. However, the pair have now been allowed back in.

Although there has been no official confirmation of the link, Vicky, who was aware of the charges against the former occupant in what she said was a private rented house, said: “I think that’s why it’s been targeted, 100%. It’s not just me, all the customers are saying the same.

“They didn’t take anything. They just went in and set it on fire,” she said, adding that she had overheard police refer to ‘a gang’. She herself had recently seen young men “hanging around the back’.

Vicky added: “There was a lady outside crying, saying  ‘I was supposed to be moving into this place tomorrow’.”   

Detective Constable Oliver Carruthers of Cheshire Police said: “This act could have had serious if not fatal consequences and we are determined to find those responsible.

“Thankfully no one lives in this property and police were able to ensure the safety of those in the neighbouring properties by evacuating them while firefighters put out the fire. I would urge anyone with information to contact police or Crimestoppers.”

Anyone with information should contact Cheshire Police on 101 quoting incident number 30 of February 26, 2014. Alternatively, information can be given anonymously by contacting Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.