One of London’s top planning officials is charged with intentionally setting fire to clubhouse

A City of London official has been charged with two counts of arson after an arson attack at the clubhouse of a central London golf course intended to be used by the city’s homeless.

Jonathan Cohen, the head of the city’s East Area Planner, has been released on bail and has been suspended with pay while the matter is investigated, according to a statement from the London mayor’s office Friday.

The fire at Queen Alexandra Golf Course, in Camden, north London, on Oct. 30 was initially believed to have been caused by a gas explosion. Once investigators had determined that the blaze had been set intentionally, police began an arson investigation.

Cohen, who is in his mid-40s, had worked for the city for more than a decade. The East Area Planner manages planning, planning policy and land use along with other civil servants.

It is possible that fire and police investigators will find out where Cohen got the wood or inflammable material used to start the fire. Police said that it had been spread over several dozen square feet and was extinguished using a water cannon. The golf course was closed at the time.

The Metropolitan Police said that while it believes the arson was carried out with an “intention to cause harm,” it declined to elaborate.

Police investigations are continuing, including a review of phone records and potential forensic examination of Cohen’s computer. The arsonist has not been located.

“There is no doubt that this fire will take a significant toll on the club and community, and while this has been an incident which has shocked the whole community, there is hope in seeing the open and friendly spirit of the golf club continue as usual,” said Detective Inspector Dan Cook of Camden Police.

While Cohen’s name appeared on the golf course’s notice board on Thursday, the notice was not drawn up by his office.

CCTV footage from the clubhouse shows that “a man set the fire using flammable material on the roof after ringing to say there was a fire and that he was going to pick it up,” said Charlotte Robinson, a spokeswoman for the East Area Planner.

A golf club spokesman described the incident as “deplorable.”

“The club has a team that works to support, along with local partners, the city’s homeless and other vulnerable people,” the spokesman said in a statement. “It is totally unacceptable that those who have access to such facilities would abuse it for their own personal gain.”

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