DETECTIVES investigating the fire which gutted a Blaenavon factory believe it was started deliberately.

As reported in the Argus, the Ark International dressing gown factory, formerly known as Andrew Russell, on Forgeside Road, went up in flames on Saturday, March 2.

Detective Constable Lyn Hawker, from Pontypool CID, said forensic scientists were continuing their investigation in the factory.

"Although we are keeping an open mind until we have a full forensic report, we are also treating it as suspicious." He said that the results would be known in two to three weeks. Detectives are also eager to trace a jeep which was seen speeding away from the car park of the factory just before it went up in flames.

DC Hawker said that no-one had come forward with information about a dark coloured jeep or 4x4 off-road vehicle after an appeal was made in the Argus.

He said: "We are still trying to find the driver and would like to say that if they have any information for us, it will be treated with complete confidence."

Detective Sergeant Jim Walker said: "The fire has caused hundreds of thousands of pounds of damage and, as far as I am aware, the insurance claim will be in excess of £200,000."

David Ludlow, economic development officer for Torfaen council, said that grant assistance had been given to the company and its managing director Gary O'Loughlin , a businessman from the Bolton area, since he had moved into the factory in 1998.

Mr Ludlow said: "Although nothing formal has been announced, I believe that the amount of damage to the factory is such that it will have to be knocked down."

He said that alternative premises had been found for the company at the Blaenavon small business centre and that alternative accommodation at the Gilchrist Thomas Industrial Estate would be made available if it was required.

Nobody was injured in the blaze, which took five crews from stations in Ebbw Vale, New Inn, Blaenavon and Abersychan four hours to control.

Assistant divisional officer of South Wales Fire Service, Jeffrey Mears said that there was strong evidence to suggest arson.

Anyone with information is asked on the cause of the fire is asked to contact Pontypool CID on 01495 764711.