“DISRESPECFUL” young vandals have destroyed a seafront memorial bench after setting it alight.

Two youngsters, believes to be aged about 11 or 12, are thought to have started the fire on Thorney Bay beach.

A large group of youths were seen hanging around the area at the time of the blaze, which broke out at about 9pm on Friday.

A woman who spotted the fire immediately rang the fire service and John Webb, chairman of Canvey Bay Watch - a voluntary group which looks after the beach and surrounding area.

He said: “I had a call from a lady at about 9pm.

“She apologised for calling so late but said one of the benches was on fire.

“The tide was out and she didn’t have any water, but thankfully the fire service arrived and put it out.

“Unfortunately by that time it was too late for the bench.”

The memorial bench will cost £300 to replace.

There are a number of the benches on the beach, which are usually paid for by members of the community in memory of friends or loved ones.

Mr Webb added: “It is really bad.

“The memorial benches are like someone’s graves - it is so disrespectful.

“It is also frustrating as we want to get one with improving the beach, but we have to keep going back to paint over graffiti or repairing damage.

“It is like we take one step forwards and one step back.”

The group is currently painting the sea wall, but has had to go back to repaint behind the bench due to smoke damage caused by the arson attack.

Mr Webb told the Echo he is hopeful the bench will be replaced as quickly as possible to minimise the distress to the family who bought it. Their identity has not been revealed.

He aims to purchase a replacement today.

A fundraising page set up to fund the replacement has already reached more than £800, with donations flooding in from residents across the island.

Islanders have all expressed their upset at the news on the vandalism, which is the latest in a recent spate.

Plants have been taken from the plant pots along the seafront recently and, further up the beach at Concord Beach, bins have been set on fire.

Another bench at Thorney Bay was also ruined after a woman accidentally put a barbecue on the top of it and melted it.

She has since owned up to the mistake and left money to buy a replacement bench.

Mr Webb added that the destruction will not stop the volunteers, who have ambitious plans for the area, including a walkway which would allow disabled people access onto the beach.