Sunderland business owner targeted by online trolls after premises ruined by devastating fire

The owner of a business ruined by a devastating fire has spoken about how he was wrongly blamed for the blaze by online trolls.

Gareth Carr estimated that around £10,000 of his and clients' property were destroyed after flames tore through the former Savoy Bingo hall, in The Green, Southwick, Sunderland, which was home to his Southwick Auction Rooms.

The February fire at its height.

The February fire at its height.

The blaze forced him to close his business and begin searching for a new job.

A man and a woman were arrested in connection with what Northumbria Police still consider to be an arson attack.

But they were later released without charge and Mr Carr said trolls incorrectly concluded that he must be responsible for the February 3 inferno.

Mr Carr, 31, who was in the process of moving his business out of the rented premises, said: "People put two and two together and were quite willing to blame me online.

Former business owner Gareth Carr.

Former business owner Gareth Carr.

"It was depressing at first because I was already upset about what happened to the building and everything inside.

"But I couldn't get contents insurance in the first place because the building had suffered break-ins previously so there was no financial gain to be had.

"I was questioned by the police before they decided there was no further action to be taken. They were just doing their job and were brilliant afterwards.

"I can understand why they wanted to speak to me and I would have been disappointed if they didn't."

How the remains of the former bingo hall and auction room look today.

How the remains of the former bingo hall and auction room look today.

Father-of-one Mr Carr, from Hebburn, added: "I was in a bad place at first because of the fire and criticism. Three years of hard work had disappeared just like that and it took me months to get over it.

"But I had to pull myself together, ignore the comments people were making and find myself a new job. Now I'm a quality assurance inspector at Nissan."

He would not disclose how much the fire has cost him personally but added: "What I made went back into the running of the business and this could not have happened at a worse time.

"My bank balance was non-existent. The start of the year is normally very quiet after Christmas and we were hoping that things were about to recover in February and March.

"People who signed up with me with their belongings knew we weren't covered by contents insurance because of the terms and conditions of sale.

"I'm still trying to pay two or three clients' back although I have under no obligation to do so. That's just the way I am."

The roof of the former bingo hall collapsed during February's fire although there was no injuries.

Tyne and Wear Fire and Rescue Service, which is completing its own investigation, tackled the blaze for around 18 hours after it broke out at around 5.30pm and needed 50 officers at its peak.

A Northumbria Police spokeswoman confirmed that the two people initially arrested by police have been released without charge and that the incident was still believed to be arson.

Anyone with any information is urged to contact police on 101, quoting incident number 864 030217 of February 3.