Arson investigation over fire at Battle of Britain building

The fire which gutted the Grade II-listed Officers Mess at the former RAF Kenley last week is being investigated as possible arson by Surrey Police.

The gutted Officers' Mess at Kenley, as pictured by the airfield friends group the day after the fire

The gutted Officers’ Mess at Kenley, as pictured by the airfield friends group the day after the fire

The Officers Mess, which survived Nazi bombs during the Battle of Britain, has been left an empty shell following the fire, despite the best efforts of 12 crews from across Surrey who tackled the blaze for 12 hours.

The disused building had been subject of a planning application to Tandridge District Council to convert it into flats. Sorry, “luxury apartments”.

Built in 1932, the Officers Mess was home to the fighter pilots of three squadrons in 1940, their Hurricanes and Spitfires on the frontline of London’s defences during the Second World War. The building was one of the last – if not the last – remaining examples of the inter-war military buildings.

Surrey Police have said that they are treating the fire as “suspicious”.

“It survived the Germans and now some little toe-rags have set it on fire,” Alan Morgan, the chairman of Kenley Airfield Friends Group, told his local paper.

“There was a fire there a year or so ago which was arson. I would be very surprised if this was anything other than arson.”

Morgan’s organisation recently received a £881,000 grant from the Lottery Heritage Fund towards a Battle of Britain project at the aerodrome, which maintains its two runways and is used today by air cadets.

The Officers’ Mess, on the other side of the aerodrome from the Lottery project, could yet be re-built.

“To ensure its historic significance and the close association with Kenley aerodrome is preserved for future generations, officers will meet with the owner to discuss how they intend to meet their responsibilities to this historic building,” a spokeswoman for the local council said.

“Any future planning proposals will be publicised so local people can have their say over the future use of this important historic building.”

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