AN INVESTIGATION has been launched after firebugs destroyed playing equipment at a popular country park.

Essex Police is appealing for information about the suspected arson attack, which happened near to the Discovery Centre at Great Notley Country Park.

Firefighters were called out to the park just before 7pm last Friday after a wooden tower which is connected to a large slide was set alight.

It took crews more than 30 minutes to extinguish the blaze but they were unable to save the tower, which police officers said had been "completely destroyed".

Essex Police say no one was injured but has confirmed the fire was started deliberately.

Essex County Council runs the park and has condemned the incident.

Cllr Simon Walsh, Cabinet Member for Environment and Climate Change Action said: "We are really saddened that the tower slide at Great Notley Country Park was destroyed at the weekend.

"The slide was part of our well-loved children’s play trail, and with the holidays just around the corner it is very disappointing that play equipment has been targeted. We would urge anyone who may have information about the incident to contact Essex Police.

"In the meantime Great Notley is still open for all to use, and we will be considering options for replacement equipment in the near future.

We would like to express thanks to all those who have shared their sadness and shown their support, and to the individual who set up a crowd-funding page."

Great Notley county councillor Graham Butland said: "It's really disappointing. Mindless idiots must think it's funny to start setting fire to things but it's just pointless and is a real loss for the community.

"The equipment up at the park has been a huge success and everyday you see kids playing up there having fun. It's a good, cheap day out for a lot of families.

"I used to go up there with the dog quite a lot and I would always see people playing on the slide.

"It's a real shame to think that someone could do something like this."

An online fundraising page has been set up by members of the public to raise cash for a replacement slide.

In a short statement posted on the page, founder Andrew Connolly describes the playing area in the park as a "fantastic community facility".

He adds: "We have all seen the play equipment which all of our children love and use has been destroyed by some very unpleasant people.

"If you care about the discovery centre and want to help the council get the damaged equipment replaced as soon as possible please donate. All donation are welcome no matter how small, every single penny raised will go towards the discovery centre."

Anyone with information is asked to call 101 and quote the crime reference number 42/193190/19.