The owners of three young cobs rescued by a passer-by when arsonists set fire to a hay barn and van next to their locked stables near St Albans, Herts, are spending the eight days of the firemen’s strike sleeping at the yard. “We did it last time and we’ll do it again,” said Julie Blake.

Police are still investigating the arson attack at Smug Oak Lane stables, which followed the theft of rugs off the horses’ backs for the second time in two weeks.

Thieves then put the horse’s lives at risk by setting fire to the hay barn and a Ford transit van parked behind the stables. It was being used for overnight storage of feed, hay, buckets and other items.

The horses, Steptoe, P. Diddy and Nelly, owned by Julie and her husband Mick, plus a 25-year-old horse belonging to another owner at the yard, were rescued by Roger Beadle, landlord of The Old Fox pub in Bricket Wood.

He spotted the fierce blaze, which closed the road and was tackled by St Albans firefighters, on his way home from the gym. Despite being terrified of horses, he let them out of their stables.

“The horses could have died,” said Julie. “Roger Beadle was so brave. I can’t thank him enough. In fact quite a few people stopped to help for which we are very grateful.

“We had just emptied a stable, to bring in another horse and put everything in the van until the morning because it was late. We lost everything,” she added.

His owners say thatP. Diddy, a 12.2hh two-year-old gelding is a changed character since his ordeal. Says Julie: “We bought him for our son Tom. He was so placid, you used to be able to do anything with him, now he won’t let me near him. It’s very upsetting.

“Vets are also still doing tests on four-year-old Steptoe who belongs to Julie’s other son Joe. He was unable to walk after injuring himself trying to clamber out of the stable and he is still not sound.”

Police are appealing for further information on this incident. Contact the crime desk (tel: 01707 638102).

Read about other recent stable fires: