A CHARITY shop stands charred and empty after being torched in a suspected arson attack.

Acacia UK in Abingdon was gutted after being engulfed by flames early yesterday morning.

The ‘heartbreaking’ incident stripped the shop and its upstairs store room of thousands of pounds worth of stock, leading the listed building to be declared unsafe. 

The ashen insides of the blackened Bath Street shop are visible from behind a police cordon, as officers and firefighters work to establish the cause.

Shop manager Marion Buckingham, who has been a friendly face to customers for 13 years, likened her workplace to ‘a second home’.

Speaking to the Oxford Mail at the scene of the fire, with the smell of smoke still thick in the air, the Peachcroft resident said: “My little shop is ruined.

"We’ve lost our shop. All the stock has gone – the Christmas stock and Halloween stock; everything.”

Oxford Mail:

Thames Valley Police released this image alongside a witness appeal

Emergency services were called to the fire just before 4am, hosing down the flames after establishing no-one had been injured.

Mrs Buckingham holds the keys to the branch and had to stand in the pouring rain from 6am as they assessed the aftermath.

The store is manned by Mrs Buckingham, alongside an assistant manager and a dedicated team of about 13 volunteers.

It is one of four branches the charity runs, with others in Didcot, Grove and Faringdon.

The charity's shops coordinator, Karen Froud, said the shop was ‘very popular’ with residents, and maintained many regular customers.

She said: “We are heartbroken, for the generous people who live in Abingdon and have donated. 

“Hopefully we will be able to claim back the value [on insurance] – we will really be relying on the support of the people of Abingdon to help us restock.”

Loyal customers on their way to pick through clothing rails or rummage in the bookshelves were shocked to find the shop taped off today, with many expressing dismay at the thought of someone deliberately targeting a charity.

Mrs Froud said: “The shop is a source of community. Marion has been manager for many years and people come in to see her and the volunteers as much as the shop.

“Our main sadness is that we are not trading at the moment. It might have a knock-on effect on the projects we are funding. We help some of the most disadvantaged children in the world.”

Acacia UK supports children living with physical and mental health issues in East Africa, helping them to get into mainstream schooling and lifting the barriers that many face in education due to disability.

Mrs Froud stressed it was too early to speculate about the cause, but said it is thought the fire might have started outside the front door where a pile of donations had been spotted earlier.

She said: “Donations get dumped out the front, despite signs saying it’s fly tipping and a health and safety hazard. People just ignore them – it’s totally disregarded.

“We don’t know what’s happened, but this could be the result.”

She pleaded ‘on behalf of all charity shops’ for people not to leave donations outside.

Police have appealed for witnesses. Investigating officer Sergeant Leon Astley said: “Thankfully no one was injured – but the consequences could have been extremely serious.” 

Anyone with information should call 101, quoting URN 113 (25/9).