SUPPORTERS of a Hampshire charity have launched a campaign to help it replace a former minibus which was destroyed in an arson attack.

Leaders of the Beaulieu-based Countryside Education Trust (CET) say lives were put at risk in the 4am blaze, which occurred near a residential unit full of sleeping children.

As reported in the Daily Echo, the fire destroyed a vehicle which was used to transport objects too large to be moved by car.

Now a crowdfunding campaign has been launched in a bid to raise £1,000 and has already netted £587 - 58% of its target.

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A message on its GoFundMe page says: "Our little local charity, the Countryside Education Trust, was targeted in a mindless arson attack which destroyed their minibus.

"They are grateful that the children asleep in the residential centre next door are OK.

"If you have ever been to their wonderful free events, which are creative, informative and honest, good old fashioned fun, please give what you can."

The charity has posted a comment which says: "Thank you to everyone who has contributed so far. We are really touched."

CET leaders have issued a statement accusing the arsonists of putting lives at risk.

Anna Barnard is the deputy chief executive. She and her husband Steve, who live on-site, were alerted when firefighters knocked on their door in the early hours of January 8.

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Mrs Barnard said blazing vehicle was parked next to a biomass building which was full of woodchip.

She added: "It was extraordinarily lucky that the fire service managed to contain the fire and avoid any harm to our visitors.

"We have been really heartened by support from our neighbours and our wider community who have sent lovely messages to check we are okay."

The charity, which has been operating for more than 40 years, now faces the task of replacing the vehicle.

Mrs Barnard said: "Obviously there are significant financial implications as we are a small charity. But at the end of the day no-one was hurt and we are very grateful for that.

Anyone with information can contact Hampshire police on 101, quoting crime reference number 44200008357.