A COUPLE have been left shocked and upset after arsonists torched and destroyed their much-loved boat as it was moored near Wareham.

Patricia Whitlock and Richard Martindale had spent the weekend on the 30-foot cruiser, returning to their home in Ferndown just hours before the £35,000 boat was wrecked in the blaze.

Frighteningly, they had considered staying for another night aboard the vessel, which was ransacked before being set ablaze.

Police have now launched an investigation into the fire, reported to the emergency services at 9.20pm on Sunday evening.

Firefighters and volunteers from the RNLI rushed to Swineham point, east of Wareham, after receiving reports of smoke and flames coming from the boat.

Although crews battled to extinguish the flames, the boat, which was moored near the River Frome, was completely destroyed.

Richard said: "It appears that the boat was broken into before it was set on fire.

"We'd had a burglary there last year when we'd left it unlocked, and we'd got a big, heavy-duty door."

He said he believes it is possible that the boat was burned because the arsonists had to smash through the door.

Richard and Patricia have owned the vessel for three years.

"We're not wealthy people - I'm a dust cart mechanic, and we saved up for a long time beforehand to afford the boat," Richard said.

"We're in the position now where we're trying to get any information that we can on the people who did this."

Sadly, the boat was not insured, meaning the couple may yet face a bill for thousands of pounds to get the vessel out of the water and scrap it.

"It's completely worthless now - it almost looks more like a canoe and it's completely black inside," Richard said.

"We're struggling to find out even where we can take it to scrap it. It's just a massive lump of metal now."

Police investigating the arson have now appealed for witnesses and anyone with information to come forward.

Officers assisted by the police helicopter carried out a search of the area, but nothing was found.

PC Emma Swann of Purbeck police said officers are keen to trace three men seen in the area at the time of the incident.

They are described as white and aged in their 30s.

“I am appealing to anyone who witnessed anything suspicious in the area on Sunday evening to please call me," said PC Swann.

“I am particularly keen to hear from anyone who saw three men in the area of Swineham at the time. I believe these men may have important information that could assist my investigation.”

Witnesses and anyone with information should call Dorset Police in confidence on 101 quoting incident number 7:434. Alternatively, call the free and anonymous Crimestoppers line on 0800 555 111 where mobile phone tariffs may apply.