Outpouring of concern as local teenagers team up to help vulnerable victim
The plight of the homeless – even in a town as prosperous as Tunbridge Wells – was brought into sharp focus in the build-up to Christmas with the desperately sad story of a rough sleeper who was targeted in an arson attack.
Highlighting just how vulnerable the homeless are, a man who was sleeping in the Great Hall car park on Mount Pleasant found his bedding and clothes had been set alight and destroyed.
The blaze was extinguished by the fire brigade and police attended the scene on December 1. They have reviewed CCTV footage but are yet to make any arrests.
The 30-year-old man, who is of Polish descent, has since been provided with new clothing and sleeping gear following campaigns launched by two local teenagers on social media.
The vicious attack came to the attention of local resident Wendy Cox when she returned to her car at Great Hall and discovered it had been severely damaged by the blaze.
She recalls: “I spoke to the guy. He was in tears, and very concerned that my car could have blown up and I had my baby with me, which was very sweet of him.
“The police have video footage of the guy entering the car park but not of him igniting the bedding so they can’t do anything.
“I had two very upset eight-year-olds who just don’t understand why anyone would do that to someone else.”
Teenager Harriet Tilleyy, who works at the Calverley Grounds ice rink, said she heard about the incident from the skate staff, who called the fire brigade. She subsequently set up an appeal to raise money to replace the man’s clothes and bedding.
“Later on that evening when I went back to my car I saw where the fire was and the ashes that were left,” she said. “It was honestly heart-breaking. I mean, this poor man just had all his belongings completely destroyed.
“So I put a status up on Facebook about it and had quite a few responses and a lot of people wanting to help. My friend Jess Neville then posted in a buy/swap/sell page asking people if they had anything they could offer to help.
Jess added: “Harriet is known to bring cups of tea and coffee for the homeless in the Calverley car park in the evenings. I saw the homeless man the night before it happened, he was completely minding his own business and staying out of the way.
“The next day all of his belongings were set fire to. I have no idea who did it but it literally broke my heart when Harriet told me.
“She started to collect money, but I felt awful as I just couldn’t afford to donate. So instead I thought that other people may be in the same boat as me and I started a collection of old clothing and camping equipment.
“I honestly couldn’t believe how many people wanted to help, it was so heart-warming. So many people donated – food, sleeping bags, thermals.”
She added: “It’s just so lovely to see that in a time where the man really needed some help, complete strangers were coming together to make sure he was OK. It broke my heart, but was lovely at the same time.”
Anyone with information about the incident can call Kent Police on 01622 604100, quoting reference YY/026977/16, or contact Kent Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555111.