AN investigation is underway after a children’s play area was set alight by firebugs.

Police have confirmed the incident in Clare Road, Braintree, is being treated as arson and detectives are appealing for anyone with information to come forward.

It is understood the incident happened at about 10.30pm on Monday and resulted in a picnic bench, based in the middle of the play area, being completely destroyed.

A resident who lives near the park but wished to remain anonymous said: “I went to bed around 10.30pm, but heard a loud bang, which sounded like a firework going off.

“My neighbour’s alarm went off, so I had a look out the window and could see a bench right in the middle of the park was covered in flames.

“There was at least one person running off towards the industrial estate, but I think there may have been others.

“We get a lot of youths hanging around the park late at night drinking and loitering. I’ve accepted they do it, but want them to clear up after themselves.

“Sometimes you find smashed bottles in the park which is dangerous for young kids using it in the daytime.

“But setting fire to a bench is on a whole different level. It’s so dangerous and spoils it for all the people who want to use the park.

“It’s also a real waste of resources for the police and fire service, who don’t want to be wasting their time with mindless vandalism.”

Braintree Council, which is responsible for the park, says play equipment in the park has not been damaged and can still be used.

However, environment boss Wendy Schmitt has condemned those responsible for the fire.

She said: “This mindless act of vandalism in one of our parks is criminal damage and those who caused it should be ashamed of themselves.

“I would urge anyone who knows anything about the incident to report it to Essex Police.

“Our parks team have visited the site and are in the process of removing the bench.

“Thankfully no damage was done to the play equipment so it is still safe to use.”

Anyone with information about the arson attack should contact Braintree police station on 101 quoting crime reference number 42/108326/20.