I'm so relieved no-one was hurt in arson fire; Pensioner speaks as thatched cottaged destroyed.
Byline: NEIL LANCEFIELD Daily Post Correspondent firstname.lastname@example.org
A PENSIONER whose thatched cottage was destroyed during a series of arson attacks has described her relief that noone was injured.
Jean Gladstone's home in rural south Oxfordshire was targeted alongside council buildings and a funeral parlour.
A 47-year-old man, named locally as farmer Andrew Main, is still being questioned by police after being arrested on suspicion of arson.
Miss Gladstone, 80, escaped from her home in Roke Marsh unharmed during the blaze, which began at around 3am.
Just over 24 hours later she stood outside the cottage with a beaming smile, chatting to police officers while they maintained a cordon around her property.
"I just want to thank all my friends," she said.
"I was very fortunate. We are thankful that everybody is safe."
Miss Gladstone, who has lived in the cottage for nearly 40 years, went on: "I don't want any publicity. It's a fabulous village. They are all friends. It's a family here.
"People have been amazing, offering beds and everything.
"The only thing I took out of the house was a lovely bunch of flowers, simply because they were there as I rushed out."
When asked how she was feeling, she replied: "I'm absolutely in top gear."
Firefighters launched a massive operation involving 27 crews to control the three blazes, which started within 10 minutes of each other.
The first blaze was at Miss Gladstone's home, followed by a second at Chadwick Howard Funeral Service in Benson Lane in the village of Crowmarsh Gifford.
The third happened when a car crashed into the office of South Oxfordshire District Council - also in Benson Lane --before it burst into flames.
The vehicle is suspected to have contained gas canisters.
Geoff Williams, 78, who lives opposite the thatched cottage in Roke Marsh, said he believed Mr Main was involved in a planning dispute with Miss Gladstone.
He said he believed that the Main family had built on their land without planning permission more than 30 years ago, and Miss Gladstone opposed further developments.
Mr Williams said: "My understanding was that the original way they tried to build a farmhouse didn't have planning permission.
"I think she was against any development of this area. She looked at it as a nice, lovely area."
Oxfordshire Fire and Rescue Service said the planning department was worst hit by the blaze at the council office, which damaged around 85% of the building.
South Oxfordshire District Council has not yet been able to access the building to discover what has been lost in the flames and what might be recoverable.
A Roke Marsh resident, who did not want to be named, said she has previously spoken to Mr Main in the village. "I've always got on fine with him," she said.
"He was somebody local so if I saw him I had a chat with him.
"There must have been something wrong emotionally. It's a tragic situation."
A Thames Valley Police spokesman said: "A 47-year-old man from the Wallingford area was arrested this morning (Thursday) in Roke Marsh on suspicion of arson with intent to endanger life. He is currently in police custody."
Gutted: |the fire-hit cottage