An investigation is under way after a suspected arson at a pub near Ilfracombe.

Police have confirmed they are treating a fire at the Foxhunters Inn at West Down on Friday (July 10) as arson and are appealing for information from the public after the building suffered ‘substantial damage’.

Firefighters were called at 5.40pm after reports of smoke and flames coming from the derelict pub.

Crews from Braunton, Ilfracombe and Barnstaple spent more than four hours dealing with the fire, and the A361, which runs past the building, was closed by police.

Fire crews confirmed half of the building had been ‘severely’ damaged by the fire, with the other half moderately damaged by heat and smoke.

Foxhunters owner Philip Milton praised the fire crews who arrived ‘within minutes’ of an intruder and fire alarm system being set off.

He said: “As owners, we wanted to thank publicly the efforts of all the fire teams who attended the fire. As ever, they did a fantastic job containing the fire and limiting damage.

“Thank you too for all those sending their kind wishes – it might have been unoccupied but it is still a very stressful situation for us, as owners, to have to deal with all the consequences and we still have many cherished items within the property. Apologies too to anyone who may have been inconvenienced from the fire.

Philip MiltonPhilip Milton

“We are very grateful the fire has been contained in the left upper rear of the property so the original and older parts are largely unaffected aside from limited smoke damage.

“We are very grateful that the alarm system worked as it should, that no-one was hurt, that no neighbours have been affected, that the fire was contained rapidly and that the damage is limited and not impacting the historic parts we have always wished to see preserved.”

Mr Milton is in the process of appealing a refused planning application to convert the pub into four dwellings.

In light of the application, Mr Milton said there would be no insurance claim submitted for the fire.

“Our plans include preservation of the main structure, aspect and layout of the overall property, crucial aspects upon which I have always insisted,” said Mr Milton.

“We already have legal, separate residential consent for the bungalow behind.

“There will be no insurance claims made by us as a consequence of the fire, primarily in view of the pending planning applications.

“We do not believe in fraud nor attempts at abuse of the planning system through fire.”

Anyone who saw or heard anything suspicious at the time of the incident is asked to contact police via 101@dc.police.uk or by telephone on 101, quoting the crime reference CR/055700/20.