An arsonist, who set three outbuildings alight in Devizes, tried to escape on a pensioner’s precious canal cruiser but made the mistake of taking on the Caen Hill flight of locks.

After clearing four of the 29 locks in the early hours of Saturday morning the fugitive turned the boat around and then set it on fire.

Owner Lionel Gordon, 77, of Charter Close, Devizes, learnt his prized possession was missing on Saturday.

The owners of Rockley bed and breakfast in London Road, Devizes, where Mr Gordon moors his boat, rang to break the news.

He said: “I was asked if I knew where my boat was. It was then I found out it had been stolen. I was very upset as I was preparing it to go to a number of regattas.

“From the outside the boat does not look too bad but when you go down in the cabin everything is burnt and blackened.”

Among the possessions destroyed was Mr Gordon’s Merchant Navy cap and badge he earnt when he signed up as a 15-year-old.

He said: “I was very sad to lose those and other things such as the flags from the boat were stolen.”

Mr Gordon, who is married to Cordelia and has four children, five grandchildren and a great grand child, bought the boat six years ago when he moved to Devizes.

He said: “The boat is my pride and joy and I was really looking forward to taking part in the regattas. I don’t know how long it is going to take to repair.”

The arsonist began his trail of destruction at 11.15pm on Friday when a bag of rubbish was set alight inside derelict outbuilding in the grounds of St Peter’s School in Bath Road.

Then at 1.55am on Saturday a shed was set alight in the grounds of Braeside educational centre in Bath Road.

The fire spread from a shed to the roof of an old stables building that is used as an outside classroom.

The third fire at 3.35am happened when a petrol mower was set alight inside a garage at Keepers Road, Devizes.

It is then thought the arsonist went to Rockley where two violins and a bicycle were left on the driveway before the boat was taken.

Devizes Fire Station commander Pip Flowers said: “It was a very strange night.

“I don’t think we have ever had a trail of arsons quite like it. It seems the arsonist thought they could escape on the boat but hadn’t reckoned with the Caen Hill flight.

“They went through about four locks leaving them open so that water was escaping and then decided to turn around.

“When we got there it didn’t take a lot of putting out. We used the hose reels and two guys in breathing apparatus went inside.

“From our point of view the most serious fire was at Braeside where it spread from the shed to the roof of a classroom.”

A 27-year-old man has been arrested on suspicion of arson, burglary and theft of a motor vehicle.

He has been released on police bail.