London: An Indian-origin family of four in the UK had a lucky escape when their house was targeted in an "unprovoked" arson attack which the police is treating as a hate crime.
Mayur Karlekar, called as Mac Karlekar, and his wife Ritu and two young children were asleep in their home late on Saturday night when they were woken up by their neighbours, who had called in the fire brigade to tackle a huge blaze outside their home in south-east London's Borkwood Park area of Orpington.
"The Metropolitan Police is investigating this as a hate crime. It is being dealt with as a case of arson and criminal damage. No arrests have been made so far," a Metropolitan Police spokesperson said on Wednesday.
CCTV images from the area reportedly show a group of four-five youths, dressed in hoodies, attempting to start a fire on the hedges outside the Karlekars' home.
"We all were sleeping and were luckily woken up by neighbours on time. Though most of the damage was done to the hedges leaving the house now exposed, my son's bedroom was just saved - he was sleeping in it at the time of the incident," said Mayur Karlekar, a digital consultant who move to the UK from Mumbai in the late 1990s.
"We are glad it was stopped on time but the damage to our neighbourhood, our society, to our home has been done, irrecoverably. We have not caused any trouble to anyone and have only helped others in all our lifetime. I was special police myself doing voluntary unpaid work. This act happening to us was a complete shock," said the 43-year-old, who has been appealing for information to bring the suspects to justice across various social media channels.
Mayur Karlekar, originally from Dombivali in Thane district of Maharashtra, said he wanted to ensure no other families in the neighbourhood become victims of a similar hate crime.
"Hope this kind of arson attack does not happen to any family as it happened on ours unprovoked. If you know anyone or seen any video floating around on social media of dares, please help stop it. Be safe, be vigilant," he said in his appeal.
Images posted on social media reveal huge flames and extensive damage to the outside of the property in the residential suburb in the borough of Bromley in London. Mayur Karlekar has expressed his unhappiness with the nearly 32-hour delay in the Met Police starting their investigation into the case.
"This is the second incident in this area, the first one being a robbery, but we feel more may have happened or are going unreported. We want those people to come out and raise their voice too," he said.
British police describe hate crimes as those perceived as motivated by hostility or prejudice based on a personal characteristic and monitor it under five strands - race or ethnicity; religion or beliefs; sexual orientation; disability; or transgender identity.
According to official figures released earlier this year, incidents of hate crime had registered a spike in the immediate aftermath of the Brexit referendum in 2016. There were 80,393 offences in 2016-17, compared with 62,518 in 2015-16, the largest increase since the UK Home Office began recording these figures in 2011-12.