Arsonists targeted the home of a Polish family and left a threatening letter on their doorstep telling them to “go back to your fucking country”.
A fire was started in a shed close to the property in Blandford Road in Efford, Plymouth, overnight on Wednesday into Thursday, and almost spread to the family home. Glass in the window of the bathroom shattered and the downpipes melted, Devon and Cornwall Police said.
Ewa Banaszka, who lives nearby with her husband, said her two sisters, aged 14 and 19, noticed flames from an upstairs window and alerted their father, Adam to the blaze.
The attack matches a pattern of increased attacks against those born outside the UK in the wake of the vote to leave the EU.
As other family members called the fire service, Bamaszka, 22, said her father grabbed a garden hose and tried to put out the fire.
After failing to subdue the blaze, he then opened the shed and began spraying inside.
Bamaszka told the Plymouth Herald that as her youngest sister went to wait for the fire service to arrive she discovered the sinister note.
“On the doorstep she found a used envelope. She opened it up and read what was inside.”
The note, made up of individual words and letters seemingly cut out of a newspaper, read: “Go back to your fucking country next be your family”.
Bamaszka said the family “immediately realised” the author of the note could have been responsible for the fire in the shed. Police are now analysing the note.
Bamazzka told the newspaper her family had been abused on a number of occasions over the past few days. Her 11-year-old twin brothers had been confronted at a nearby park days earlier.
“They were in the park and a group of children started throwing stones at them and shouting ‘go back to your fucking country’.”
Banaszak shared a number of pictures of the damage the fire caused on Facebook, and described how the fire made the family feel: “This is what has happened to our family last night.
“This is so sad and disturbing to go through... especially that we have been in here (sic) for 10 years, working, studying and putting all that we can... please share and spread the word so that it doesn’t happen to someone else.”
Banaszak told the Plymouth Herald the negative response from people to her family being in Britain was “not new”, but said: “We’ve never got to the point where someone has taken action”.
“I do think the EU Referendum is a big part of what’s happened. We’ve had problems for the last two years, only verbal and no action.
“It’s small-minded people who don’t know what they’re talking about.
“But since the Referendum it’s all escalated. I know there’s been writing on the wall next to the Polish shop and things have happened in other parts of the country and not just towards Polish people.”
The National Police Chiefs’ Council revealed that hate crimes reported to police rose 57% in the four days after Britain voted to leave the European Union.
Inspector Darren Green, of Devon and Cornwall Police, said: “I am appalled by this crime and incidents of hate such as this are treated as a priority by my officers.
“Hate crime has no place in Plymouth and we will do everything possible to locate those responsible for the fire and the disgusting letter sent to the victims.”
Green said police believe the fire was “started deliberately” and was “racially motivated”, it also had the potential to endanger the lives of those living at the address.
He appealed for anyone with knowledge of the incident, or knew those involved, to contact police.
“If anyone knows anything that can help with our investigations, then please get in touch.
“We would also like to hear from anyone who saw anything suspicious last night and in the moments leading up to the fire, or anyone seen fleeing the scene.”