A MAN whose canal boat was nearly destroyed in a vicious arson attack says a fellow canal dweller could die because of hate towards boaters.

Alan Joyce’s boat was empty and moored near Oxford station when arsonists set fire to it days before Christmas, which he says amounted to ‘arson with intent to endanger life’.

He says the perpetrators smashed the doors with a hammer and threw in firelighters leading to a blaze so hot – with temperatures he estimates to be above 250C – that his smoke alarm melted.

After a neighbour called 999, firefighters extinguished the flames and saved his boat, but his sodden possessions were left stinking of smoke, he cannot lock up and he now fears a further attack.

Oxford Mail:

Mr Joyce, who runs a hot food stand at Oxford station and sells ice cream on Port Meadow in the summer, said: “I reckon there is a person going around setting fire to boats. I think it is a local resident.

“They didn’t know for sure that my boat was vacant – it is clearly a serious crime.

“About a week after me there was another fire and two days after my boat somebody had their ropes cut.

“Someone could have easily been sleeping on my boat – all (the perpetrator) would have seen was the padlock, but you could easily have had access through the side hatch.

“What happens in a fire is that you get smoke inhalation and that basically means you pass out and are disabled. You would die – people die in boat fires so it would not take much.

“It is a grim way to die – imagine the panic.”


- First report: Canal boat catches fire on Roger Dudman Way near Oxford Station

- Thief steals watch and bag from canal boat

- Burglars use cat flap to break in to boat

The 57-year-old also suggested that in temperatures that high, a trapped boater would not have been able to get out even if they were conscious because their skin would burn when trying to open doors or smash windows.

He added: “People just don’t realise how dangerous it is living on a boat.

“It was just lucky that someone called the fire brigade.

“This is my home at this time of the year, I have felt nervous about leaving it and the boat was unlocked so I couldn’t leave it.”

But New-Zealand born Mr Joyce, who has lived in the Oxford area for 30 years, believes the council could ease ‘anti-boater feeling’ with a ‘simple’ scheme.

Oxford Mail:

Noting Oxford’s problem with affordable housing, he is advocating that the council install 40 mooring positions, which boaters temporarily have for a few weeks on a rolling basis.

They would pay a fee and have to keep their towpath section tidy before moving on to another temporary position.

He says a fee of around £2,000 per year would mean that a £1,000 investment to create each mooring point would make economic sense – particularly when compared with the cost of building houses for the same number of people.

He is urging the public to get behind the idea and write to the council.

Mr Joyce, who rents his boat to tourists in summer, explained: “The council marginalise families with boats. That starts up hate in the local community.

Canal boat incidents down the years:

- Woman dies after falling from canal boat

- Canal boat burglar tidied up

- Canal boat damaged in suspected arson attack

“People have this perception that boaters want a free ride but that’s not true – we want to contribute like everybody else.”

In the meantime, Mr Joyce has now installed a CCTV camera on his boat, costing hundreds of pound, with a live feed to the internet.

The fire service and police confirmed they had been called to the incident at about 6.30pm on December 21, adjacent to Roger Dudman Way, at Fiddlers Island.

Fire service spokesman Chris Dyson said: “The fire was extinguished within approximately half an hour by crews using breathing apparatus and a main jet. The boat had approximately five square-metres of fire damage, and smoke-logging throughout.”

Police spokesman Kieren Bushnell added: “Following an investigation, this case has been filed pending further information coming to light.”

Oxford Mail:

City councillor Alex Hollingsworth, board member for planning and transport, said that mooring regulations were set out in the Thames Conservancy Act – not by the council.

He responded: “It is recognised in the council’s draft Local Plan that there is a growing demand for mooring provision – both permanent residential and visitor moorings – and demand for improved services.

“As we progress with finalising the plan, we will work with wider partners to identify potential sites for new permanent moorings, manage existing temporary moorings and provide services which meet the needs of those who live aboard and those who visit.”

Mr Hollingsworth added that there were limitations on availability of sites suitable for long-term mooring.