A RESTAURANT owner says an arson attack had the potential to completely ruin her business.

Satima Rodrigues, who owns Portuguese eatery O’Picado, is counting the cost after arsonists set light to her air conditioning unit, rubbish and cooking oil at the back of the restaurant, in London Road, Westcliff.

Ms Rodrigues estimates she will have to fork out £600 for the new air conditioning unit and install newCCTV in a bid to keep her business safe.

She also fears nearby residents could be targeted by the yobs.

Ms Rodrigues, 50, said: “To think I was asleep at home peacefully and the most horrible thing was happening at the restaurant.

“I won’t rest after this. It makes me so worried. I could have come back to no restaurant.

My neighbour, at the Chinese next door, is also very worried because she sleeps above her restaurant.

“It was very dangerous. If it had got any closer to the doors, everything would have been destroyed.”

Firefighters from Southend were called to the blaze and put it out within 20 minutes, before confirming it had been started deliberately.

Ms Rodrigues added: “I have been here for ten years and this has never happened. But there is a problem with people who hang around outside and drink. Before we put a gate up in our alleyway, we used to find needles and people would use it as a toilet.

“Something needs to be done as it puts off customers.”

Anyone with information about the incident, which happened between 2am and 7am on Thursday, June 26, can call PC Martin Thacker at Southend police station on 101, or Crimestoppes, anonymously, on 0800 555111.

The restaurant remains open for business.