AN ALLOTMENT holder has spoken out after arsonists killed all his racing pigeons and caused thousands of pounds-worth of damage.

All that was left of Bob Maudsley's double-garage-sized shed were ashes, the 38 carcasses of his beloved pigeons and chickens and a sharp reminder of the vandals' intentions.

"Embedded in the wall of the chicken coop was one of my garden forks. They must have been throwing it at them to kill them," he said.

Bob, 52, of Manchester Road, Baxenden, said he blamed youngsters for the act of 'sheer vandalism' and said if a proposed youth shelter is built nearby things will only get worse.

Baxenden Area Council is looking at getting funding for a youth shelter and large all-weather basketball court on land adjacent to the allotments, off Hollins Lane.

A number of the other allotment-holders have said that Bob's misfortune is just the tip of the iceberg and they will give up their allotments if the shelter is built.

The fire started after 11pm on Sunday night, after Bob had left his allotment at about 9.15pm. When he awoke on Monday he received a telephone call informing him of the destruction.

"When I got there, there was nothing left, just ashes, the metal parts of my spades and forks and the blackened stone flag flooring. I sifted through the ash and found the carcasses of my 26 racing pigeons and my dozen chickens.

"They must have dropped down when they were overcome with the smoke. I hadn't flown them yet or joined a club. I'd only had them two years, but I was planning to.

"It's sheer vandalism that's what it is. They must have caused thousands of pounds-worth of damage. If they build this shelter, things will only get worse. We don't know who did it, but I think it was youngsters, perhaps about 16 or 18."

Helen Wardle, 38, of Manchester Road, who runs the allotment next door to Bob's, said it has not only deeply affected Bob, but everybody else on the council allotment site.

"Bob was devastated, he's lost everything. But all of us here are devastated too. A lot of them around me are talking about giving up.

"We've had problems with youngsters drinking down by the river and causing trouble when they come back past the allotments.

"I believe that youngsters need something to do, but, surely, this will only give them somewhere to congregate, it won't stop them getting bored.

"Perhaps if we set up free buses to the New Era Youth Club or set up a youth club in Baxenden Conservative Club, in Manchester Road, I know they are able to go there."

Coun John Griffiths, of Baxenden ward, said: "It sickens me to hear of the damage caused once again by 'yobs' and I sympathise with allotment-holders, but at the present time there is no evidence to suggest it was children or youths."

Sgt Claire Holbrook said: "Somebody wearing a light-coloured top was seen running away from the scene at about 11.30pm by a woman walking her dog.

"We are treating it as arson and if anybody saw something suspicious they should call 01254 382141."