Ex-Navy captain ‘set fire to sailing club’

The scene at Emsworth Sailing Club. Picture: PA
The scene at Emsworth Sailing Club. Picture: PA
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A RETIRED Royal Navy captain is recovering after allegedly crashing his car into his sailing club’s headquarters and setting it alight.

The 82-year-old, understood to be Clifford Caughey, a former commanding officer of the destroyer HMS Fife, was arrested on suspicion of arson after he drove his Volvo estate through the wall of the Emsworth Sailing Club in Hampshire yesterday morning.

Witnesses said the driver pulled out of two run-ups before crashing into the clubhouse at around 70mph on a third attempt, the Daily Telegraph said.

He is then said to have got out of the car, set off flares and poured petrol over the vehicle, setting it alight.

Residents were evacuated as firefighters tackled the blaze, which damaged a flat above the club in Bath Road, Emsworth.

The driver was taken to Queen Alexandra Hospital in Portsmouth with non life-threatening injuries and later arrested.

Chris Clode, the club’s commodore, told the Portsmouth News the arrested man was a member of the club. He said that the incident was a shock to members and added: “We don’t know the reasons. We just don’t know why. The police will find that out.”

A statement on the club’s Facebook page yesterday stated: “We are sad to report that earlier this morning an incident involving a vehicle hitting the clubhouse occurred resulting in some structural damage and a fire.

“All persons are safely away from the area, including those living on-site, and we are now working closely with Hampshire Fire and Rescue to assess the extent of the damage to the clubhouse.

“Please could we appeal to all members to stay away from the club at this time and we will make further announcements once we know what facilities may be available for members in the near future. “The club will remain closed for the remainder of the week.”

Mr Caughey, known as John, is understood to be a father of two and a widower after his wife died nine years ago.

He was reportedly in the process of moving house and selling his sailing boat due to ill health and friends and neighbours said he had been “stressed” in recent weeks, the Telegraph said.

Neighbour Jean Howells, 72, a fellow member of the sailing club, said he was friendly and pleasant and enjoyed being part of the club, the newspaper reported.

She said: “I think he really enjoys it. I saw John the other day in the garden and he seemed okay but I think he has seemed a bit stressed lately.

“He’s in the middle of moving house and all I can think is that it has just got to him - its’s stressful moving house anyway and especially if you’re on your own.”

A Hampshire Police spokesman said yesterday: “Hampshire Constabulary was called to an address on Bath Road in Emsworth at 6.34am this morning following reports that a dark green coloured Volvo estate was involved in a collision with a building.

“No-one in the building was injured in the collision and a subsequent fire, the driver was treated for non-life threatening injuries. Some local residents were temporarily evacuated until the fire was extinguished and have now returned to their homes. An 82-year-old man from Emsworth has been arrested on suspicion of arson and is helping police with their inquiries.”