A businessman from Chester who was arrested in connection with the devastating New Ferry blast has told of his relief after being released from the police investigation.
Sixty-five-year-old Marcus Johnson, who owns Hoole discount store Against the Grain Furniture, says a 'weight has been lifted' off his shoulders.
He was arrested on suspicion of arson and fraud offences after the gas explosion which destroyed local businesses and left several people homeless on March 25 of this year.
But after several weeks of enquiries, Merseyside Police has confirmed it is no longer investigating Mr Johnson and that no further action will be taken against him, the Liverpool Echo reports.
Mr Johnson says his arrest becoming public knowledge has caused him a 'great deal' of stress and has 'critically damaged' his business interests.
He believes the adverse publicity, combined with the fact it came less than a year after a fire destroyed half of the building, has led to a huge drop in footfall with not a single customer visiting in the week after his arrests.
He said: “One minute you’re going about your business as usual and then someone slaps a hand on your shoulder – it’s debilitating what your mind can start making up in that situation.
“The police came to my house and seized my mobile phone, my tablet computer and three pieces of paper. At my business they took two pieces of paper, but I was released because I have absolutely nothing to do with it [the New Ferry explosion].
“The police called as they were as anxious to get me out of the picture so that they could continue with their investigations.
“But it’s had a real damage on our business. I have been talked about in our local pub. Chester is a close community and we have been talked about. People are smiling at us but in their heads you know they’re thinking ‘what’s going on?’ it can be fake.”
Although their business has suffered in recent months, Marcus and wife Helena say they’ve received a lot of support from their close friends, family and customers and that they’re determined to continue to grow their business after a call from police confirmed Mr Johnson was no longer a part of their complex investigation.
He added: “We’ve had members of the community we know in Chester say ‘we’re behind you.’ We’ve had overwhelming support from certain members of the community.
“There’ve been numerous phone calls and various messages in support of us.
A Merseyside Police spokesman said: “A 65-year-old man from Cheshire who was arrested on suspicion of conspiring to commit arson following an explosion in New Ferry in March has been notified that he is no longer under police investigation.”