Offenders had set fire to a shed and one of the stable blocks belonging to farmer Frederick Rylance

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An elderly farmer has been left devastated after a number of animals were killed in a suspected arson attack– which police believe to be a case of mistaken identity.

Officers were called to a farm off Mundles Lane, East Boldon, shortly after 12.15am yesterday (Thursday) following a report of an arson attack.

Offenders had set fire to a shed and one of the stable blocks belonging to farmer Frederick Rylance, 75, which housed a number of animals. Sadly, the attack resulted in the death of a horse and two goats.

An investigation has been launched into the circumstances surrounding the fire and police believe the incident to be a case of mistaken identity.

Overnight on September 5, the farm was also the target of criminal damage with offensive graffiti sprayed on the stables.

It comes after discussions on social media protesting against a South Tyneside resident who is due to stand trial on a charge of rape.

Sergeant Phil Smailes, of Northumbria Police, said: “The victim of this arson is absolutely distraught by what has happened.

“We understand that local communities can feel a sense of protection over the area they live and work in, but this kind of vigilante justice can have serious consequences.

“Not only can innocent people become victims of crime – as is in this case – but ongoing investigations and criminal proceedings risk being jeopardised.

“We would ask the public to think about the horrendous impact that this attack has had on the farmer whose livelihood has been threatened, with a number of animals having died in the fire. It has caused huge upset and there is absolutely no place for this type of behaviour.

“An investigation is ongoing into the cause of the fire, and we will take robust action against anybody found to have been involved. The innocent man in this case is fortunate that he has not been seriously injured himself – it could have so easily had a more sinister outcome.”

Anyone with information about the fire is asked to contact police via the ‘Tell Us Something’ page of our website or by calling 101 quoting log 14 170920. Alternatively, you can contact independent charity Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.