AN ARSON attack on a family home in Lyme Regis was a deliberate attempt to murder, worried neighbours believe.

Three people, including a young girl, had to be rescued from the first floor flat in Manor Avenue at around 2.25am on Sunday.

It is understood that petrol was poured through the letterbox and a burning rag pushed in to set it alight.

Police are treating the blaze as ‘suspicious’ and neighbours are convinced the fire was intended to kill.

They say the flat had been targeted before in what they believe is a vendetta against the occupant – known to his neighbours as ‘Lance’ and who lives there with his partner and the little girl, thought to be aged eight or nine.

None of them was at home yesterday but evidence of the blaze could be seen on the scorched and boarded up front door.

Sean Milligan, 25, and his partner Grace Broe-Ward, 21, live in the flat next door – just a couple of yards across the porch.

Amazingly, they slept through the fire which they say could easily have spread to their home.

They are convinced it was a deliberate arson attack designed to cause loss of life.

“You don’t pour petrol through a letterbox and light it without expecting someone to get killed,” said Ms Broe-Ward.

“There is no way out for them except the windows.

“The little girl’s room is right next to the front door and would have been first in line.

“If the fire had caught hold it could easily have spread across the porch to our home where we were sleeping.

“It not only endangered our lives but the lives of the eight or nine people living in the block of four homes here. I think it is absolutely disgusting.”

Mr Milligan said it was the second attack on the man’s flat – some two months ago someone had superglued his door frame and keyhole.

“He had to knock it down to get out,” he said.

“We are just worried about what they are going to do next and we are thinking about putting up a CCTV camera.

“We went in to see the damage next door and it looks like they poured petrol through the letterbox and then chucked the lit rag through.”

Mr Milligan said they were surprised that the police had not yet contacted them about the fire.

“You are the first to come and speak with us,” he told a Lyme News reporter.

Another neighbour who asked not to be named said they were all concerned about what could happen next.

“It certainly worries me,” she said. “We have a lot of young families around here as well as elderly people. You don’t expect to find things like this happening in Lyme Regis. You get the odd window smashed – my car was done recently – but not deliberate arson. It is not worth thinking about what could have happened.

“This was obviously intended to scare – it was no joke. The whole block of four flats could have gone up.”

A police spokesman said Weymouth CID officers were investigating the circumstances surrounding the ‘suspicious fire’ which burned the property’s front door and a small area of carpet below the letterbox.

A Dorset Fire and Rescue Service spokesman said crews from Lyme Regis, Charmouth and Axminster were on the scene within 10 minutes of the blaze being reported and rescued three occupants.

The people caught in the fire were treated by an ambulance crew at the scene for smoke inhalation.

Anyone with information about the fire, or anyone who saw any suspicious vehicles or people in the area at the time of the blaze, are urged to contact the police on 01202 222222.