ARSONISTS have torched benches at a popular historic beauty spot in a ‘disgraceful act of wanton vandalism’.

It is suspected youths set fire to the picnic table and benches in Ashleigh Barrow, Darwen, in the early hours of yesterday morning.

It comes after years of hard work by volunteers in transforming the historic barrow, a manmade mound to cover an ancient burial ground, off Ashleigh Street in the picturesque Whitehall area of the town.

All of what remained of one the benches donated to the Friends of Ashleigh Barrow by local firm Crown Paints, was charred remains.

Friends of Ashleigh Barrow chairwoman Catherine Waddicor, who lives across the road, said she heard youths messing around in the area at 3am. She said: “I heard noises of a group of people and wondered why they were out at that time.

“There were four of them and they were all about 15 or 16. I heard someone shout the name ‘Mark’.

“It makes me so mad. It is really disheartening.

“Everyone has worked really hard to get it to the state it is in now and lots of children play on here.”

Whitehall town councillor John East said: “It is upsetting after all the hard work people have put in and it spoils it for everyone.

“This is a disgraceful act of wanton vandalism.

“Hopefully we can get it restored but it is very disappointing in the Whitehall area where we have a good community working together. It is soul-destroying for the groups who are coming together to improve areas like this.”

Whitehall borough councillor Karimeh Foster said: “It is frightening to think we have these people running around looking for things to damage. We have had reports of problems on the barrow before but this is awful, especially for the people who have worked hard to improve this place.”

Coun Jim Smith, Executive Member for Environment, said: “This is a disgraceful and highly dangerous act of vandalism and I urge anyone with information to get in touch with Crimestoppers so we can bring those responsible to justice.”