A FIRE which ripped through a Christian centre was started by burglars attempting to break into a jewellery shop next door, it has been claimed.

Firefighters were called to the Manna House Christian Centre on Barkingside High Street at 1.45am yesterday morning (June 11).

The blaze engulfed the two-storey building, before spreading to the Allan Irving Jewellery shop.

The cause of the incident is under investigation by the police and fire services, but Manna House volunteer, Sue Catmur, 68, said there was no doubt it was started deliberately.

She explained: “The police told me it was caused by an incendiary device and we have had sniffer dogs in the building today.

“This is the fifth time in the last two years thieves have broken in.

“They came in through the back window upstairs, as they always do, trying to get to the shop next door.

“Only this time they decided to try and burn their way through.”

The owner of Allan Irving Jeweller’s, Stuart Silver, said it would take at least two months before he could open for business again.

Standing amidst the burnt wreckage of his shop, he said: “Thankfully I’m insured, but it’s shocking, horrendous.

“They’ve totally destroyed the place.

“We arrived last night after the alarms went off, but we weren’t allowed anywhere near the shop until this afternoon.

“The police haven’t told me anything yet, but we know it’s a break-in, and it’s not the first either.”

Mrs Catmur added: “They caught a 16-year-old lad who broke in last April and he was up in court last week.

“We know they aren’t targeting us, but look around and you can see everything has gone, everything is burnt – even our Bibles.”

Manna House offers services including counselling and a drop-in centre.

Mrs Catmur said she did not know how long it would take for the charity to get back on its feet.

But she added: “The first thing we will do is pray for the people who did this, because God loves them and we must love them, even if we don’t like what they do.

“Our hearts go out to Stuart and Davina next door. They are lovely people.

"With God’s grace we will all recover from this.”

Nobody was injured in the blaze.

Police are treating the incident as suspicious.

Anyone with information should call DC Patrick Conway on 020 8345 2681.

Click here to follow the Wanstead and Woodford Guardian on Twitter

Click here to follow the Wanstead and Woodford Guardian on Facebook