A heartbroken owner’s prized racing pigeons were burned alive when the cage they were kept in went up in flames.
The turn of the new year brought devastation for Liam Hope when his beloved birds were incinerated in a blaze at his loft on Benton Road, West Allotment.
The 28-year-old car valet from North Shields was immensely fond of his pigeons – keeping some as pets – and described them as his “whole life”.
He told ChronicleLive: “I’m absolutely gutted, these pigeons were my whole life and I would visit them most days after work.
“I’ve been around them since I was born, my dad, granddad and great-granddad all raced pigeons too.
“I also got really attached to them and kept one retired bird, George, as a pet.”
The fire broke out in the early hours of New Year’s Day and neighbours in West Allotment alerted Liam to the blaze.
But by the time emergency services arrived it was too late and the 110 pigeons inside the cage were dead.
Liam raced the birds with his partners 81-year-old Brian Morris, who has owned the same loft for 50 years, and 65-year-old Colin Spillard.
The trio recently spent £2,500 on some new birds, which can cost up to £500 each.
“It’s going to cost a fortune to replace”, Liam said.
“The cage’s shell alone is worth around £4,000 and then there’s the cost of the birds.”
Despite the grief and weighty financial damage, Liam is confident that his pigeon racing career is not over and said that he will rebuild his successful team from scratch.
He has launched a GoFundMe campaign to help pay for the costs of building a new loft which has already gathered £585 in donations.
Liam’s specialist racing birds won five events last year and were kept on a protein-heavy diet but loaded with carbohydrates before they set off on the 800-mile round trip to France and back for competitions.
After extinguishing the blaze, the fire department’s investigation found there had been “no malicious ignition” and the flames must have started internally.
But Liam contests this and claims to have CCTV footage, that has not yet been seen by police, which shows a man torching the loft.
He said: “The camera’s not great but you can see a kid walk up to it and try to set it on fire.
“He doesn’t manage to at first, but then he comes back.”
A spokesperson for Northumbria Police said: “Police received a report from two officers of a fire at an allotment on Benton Road, West Allotment on New Year’s Day.
“The report was made at about 1.20am when officers reported a fire in a pigeon loft.
“The fire service attended to extinguish the fire and it is believed all the pigeons died in the blaze.
“The fire investigators found that there was no malicious ignition.”
They said that a trawl of nearby CCTV had been carried out in the aftermath of the fire but nothing suspicious was found.
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