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House fire started by a squirrel disrupts funeral procession through Romford

Alby Tebbutt: Alby Tebbutt: "I'm going to shoot all the squirrels"

Tuesday, March 19, 2013
4:00 PM

A funeral car broke rank mid-procession and sped off toward its passenger’s house – where a squirrel had started a fire.

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Alby Tebbutt with some of his fire-damaged furnitureAlby Tebbutt with some of his fire-damaged furniture

Friend of the deceased and former Havering councillor Alby Tebbutt, 73, was in the final car of a procession in Brentwood Road in the afternoon of Friday, March 8, when he received an unwelcome phone call.

“I had a fellow in my house putting a new bathroom in,” he told the Recorder. “He had the window open and saw smoke coming out the garage roof.

“So he rang the fire brigade and then rang me.”

Mr Tebbutt initially believed the caller was pulling his leg – but as it dawned on him the fire was no wind-up he realised he had to get home, funeral or no funeral.

It is legal to shoot grey squirrels under UK law (photo: PA/Peter Byrne)It is legal to shoot grey squirrels under UK law (photo: PA/Peter Byrne)

“I said to the driver: ‘I’m telling you, my house is on fire. Go left here.’

“The driver said: ‘I can’t go left – I’m in a funeral.’

“I said: ‘Never mind that. Turn left.’”

The driver did as he was bidden and chauffeured the former Tory councillor, along with a number of family members of the deceased, to his Main Road home in Romford – pausing while Mr Tebbutt negotiated his way through a road block set up so the fire brigade could run a hose across the street.

He arrived to find three fire crews battling the flames, which ended up damaging 50 per cent of the garage and costing upwards of £20,000.

But it wasn’t until a fire investigation team pinpointed the cause of the incident that the strangest aspect of the afternoon’s proceedings came to light – the fire had been started by a squirrel.

A fire brigade spokesman said the mischievous rodent had chewed through the cable of a fluorescent light, sparking an electrical fire that quickly spread through the garage.

“It’s nuts to think that squirrels can start fires, but that’s exactly what happened here,” he admitted. “We think it was nesting in the garage and caused the blaze by chewing through some cables.”

Self-proclaimed “animal lover” Mr Tebbutt said he was nearing the end of his tether with the rodents.

“I put nuts out for the birds but the squirrels keep eating them,” he revealed. “Whatever contraption I put up, they seem to beat me. It’s a battle between me and the squirrels.

“I put up with that but now they’ve set my house on fire I’ve decided I’m going to shoot them all.”

Under UK law, it is legal to shoot grey squirrels but illegal to cause them unnecessary pain.

The RSPCA website warns that “squirrels may suffer if the shooting is not accurate”.

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