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Police given extra stop and search powers following spate of arson attacks in Dutch town

Police in the northern town of Winschoten have brought in emergency measures following a spate of deliberate fires.

Police patrols have been stepped up as the rate of incidents has accelerated in recent weeks.A preliminary investigation into the latest fire, in an empty building on Hofstraatlaan on Tuesday night, found it had been started deliberately, bringing the total number in the last six months to 17.

Police sought extra powers following a spike in activity in recent days. On Monday night a fire in a snack bar in the market square singed two buildings and left neighbouring properties with smoke and water damage.

On Tuesday evening an emergency order took effect authorising the police to stop and search anybody in the affected area.

Police are also investigating a fire in the C1000 supermarket which broke out on Wednesday morning, shortly after midnight. It was put out before the flames could cause serious damage.

Surveillance patrols have been stepped up and more cameras installed in the town centre as police try to ease the fears of residents.

Residents of the town near the German border say the spread of fires has left them anxious and fearful, although the attacks so far have targeted disused buildings.

Local mayor Pieter Smit has urged owners of empty premises to nail their letterboxes shut to stop burning materials being shoved through them.

“These are very strong measures, but the events in Winschoten call for it,” he told NOS.

“My responsibility is for public order and safety and I want people living here to be able to feel safe in their own homes. That’s why we’re pulling out all the stops.”