DETECTIVES today renewed their appeal to trace arsonists who destroyed a popular Indian takeaway – causing an expected £100,000 of damage.
Zeba Balti House in Hylton Road, Sunderland, was gutted in the early hours of March 12.
Insurers are continuing to assess the damage at the Millfield site, and police today made a fresh appeal for witnesses who may have seen anyone acting suspiciously in the area just before 2am.
Businessman Jalal Ahmed, who has run Zeba for more than 30 years, also hit out at claims it was carried out by him and his family as part of an insurance scam.
Mr Ahmed, 53, of Tunstall, said he heard rumours people think the fire was started by him.
“There was no benefit to us deliberately burning down the building,” said Mr Ahmed.
“I didn’t have contents insurance because I don’t own the building anymore. We have just rented it from a landlord for the past few months.
“We have been here 30 years and have no enemies, so I just don’t have any idea who has done this.”
Three full-time workers and one part-time member of staff have been left without work since the fire, with three delivery drivers also affected.
But Mr Ahmed, who is a dad-of-three, said he was in discussions to reopen Zeba but is not yet sure whether it will be at its former site. “We hope to be back open within the next month and we will let our customers know where the new shop will be,” he said.
At the time of the fire, the winner of ITV’s Superstar programme, Ben Forster, tweeted his support to Zeba.
Mr Ahmed thanked Ben, saying: “It was really nice of him to do that. I remember him coming into the shop with his family when he was just a baby.
“It’s great to get support like that.”
Det Con Gudrun Moore, of Northumbria Police, said: “We are appealing for anyone with information about this incident or who knows who is responsible to contact police.”
Anyone with information should contact police on 101 ext 69191 or Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.