Former navy captain smashes into sailing club

Updated: 

Emsworth Sailing Club in Hampshire caught fire after a car crashed into the building.

Pictured: The scene of the incident.

 © Tom Harrison/Solent News & Photo Agency
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A retired Royal Navy captain has been arrested on suspicion of arson after he allegedly drove his car into the side of a sailing club.

Clifford Caughey, 82, known locally as John, was formerly the commanding officer of HMS Fife and has been a member of the popular Emsworth Sailing Club for more than 20 years.

Witnesses claimed Caughey twice aborted his run up before driving into the clubhouse at around 70mph on his third attempt.

Club Commodore Chris Clode told The Portsmouth News that Mr Caughey was, "a respected and very popular" member of the club.

He added: "We are very concerned for him and wish him a speedy recovery," despite witnesses claiming the suspect clambered out of the stricken vehicle, let off flares and poured petrol all over the Volvo estate causing it to burst into flames.

A neighbour, who has known Mr Caughey for more than 30 years, described him as a "lovely chap".

The elderly man, who asked not to be named, told The Telegraph: "John is a lovely chap and I have no idea what would cause something like this.

"As far as I am aware, he was in good health, had no money worries, had lots of friends, and a loving family.

"He is not the sort of person who would want to harm others, so I can only imagine it was a tragic accident. It is all very distressing and baffling."

The club's franchisee Oliver Clift, his wife Eloise and their two children, were asleep in the flat above the area where the incident happened.

Mr Clift told The Portsmouth News: "We were woken by a loud bang. Some pictures fell off the wall. We realised something had gone seriously wrong."

Caughey was not seriously injured in the accident and was later taken to the nearby Queen Alexander Hospital in Portsmouth for treatment.

Fire fighters were left at the scene to tackle the blaze, which had spread to the roof of the club, forcing nearby residents to be temporarily evacuated over fears of fire spreading to gas tanks housed within the building.

David Hodge, station commander of Havant Fire Station, told The Portsmouth News: "We had three main priorities when we got to the scene and saw that the driver was safe.