A fleet of buses was torched at a newly opened family company in a suspected deliberate attack on the firm.

Two double-deckers and one single-decker were gutted in the blaze, while a vintage bus was also damaged, leaving Xelabus, which has operated for just four months, £15,000 out of pocket.

Police were last night investigating the motive behind the targeted attack at the secluded Monks Brook Industrial Park, in Valley Park, Chandler’s Ford.

‘Deeply upset’

The blaze broke out just hours after the company had launched its new Sea the City tour bus at a special heritage day in Southampton organised by Kuti’s Royal Thai Pier as part of British Tourism Week (see page nine).

Phil Blair, the father of managing director Gareth Blair, last night told the Daily Echo: “This is a small family business and we are deeply upset and disappointed.”

More than 20 firefighters were called when flames and smoke were spotted at about 6.30pm on Saturday.

The crews managed to stop the flames engulfing a nearby two-storey building and a valuable collection of vintage buses by dousing the fires with foam.

Eastleigh station manager Chris George said: “The swift actions of our fire crews prevented this incident from becoming far more serious. There were three other buses that were driven off the site by fire service personnel to limit the damage, and there were also high-value vintage buses parked at the side of the building, which were protected by the fire crews and saved from the blaze.”

Police and fire investigators were yesterday searching the area for clues.

Det Insp Martin Myers, of Eastleigh CID, believed someone deliberately targeted the company and appealed for anyone who saw anything suspicious to come forward.

The bus company launched in November last year with a fleet of seven green double and single-decker buses, reminiscent of the old Hants and Dorset vehicles, to offer free services and park-and-ride services to supermarkets, contract services for schools and colleges and general and private hire.

The company launched the Sea the City bus which will run hop-on, hop-off 90 minute tours around Southampton while cruise ships are in port from May.

Call Eastleigh CID on 101.