THE woman in charge of bringing a popular dinosaur model to Portsmouth says she is devastated that it has been destroyed by fire.
Joanne Bushnell, director of aspex, spoke as police launched an investigation to find those responsible for the suspected arson attack on the Ultrasaurus.
She said: 'Everyone involved in this project is shocked, to be honest I can't take it in yet. The public response to this has been extraordinary, there is so much sorrow about this.
'I don't want this to reflect badly on the city. I believe that the people of Portsmouth are really good, and the expressions of sorrow reflect how important this installation was.'
Police say they will scour CCTV, take forensic evidence, and seek witnesses, as part of their investigation.
Firefighters who went out to the blaze say there were a group of about 12 students at the scene when they arrived, taking pictures and video footage.
Robin Dellow, watch manager at Southsea fire station, said: 'There is nothing combustible around the dinosaur, and coupled with the fact that it is Freshers' Week and all of the students have descended on Portsmouth, it would not be unheard of for this to have been a student prank that went wrong.'
PC Jack Oakley, from Portsmouth's targeted patrol team, said: 'We've got police and fire experts looking into the possibility of forensics, although unfortunately the current bad weather is not helping.
'I understand there were a number of people who witnessed the fire and took footage of it on their mobile phones and I'm hoping they will be able to help my enquiries.'
Anne Stanford, spokeswoman for the University of Portsmouth, said: 'The police are investigating and calling for people who were present at the time to come forward and assist them with their investigation. The university is happy to help in any way.'
Students' Union President, Aakash Naik, said: 'Last week many new students enrolled at the university and have been settling into the city, but it is presumptuous to assume that these two things are linked. However, if a student, or a group of students, was involved in its destruction then they should be dealt with appropriately by the police and the university.'
Anyone with information should contact PC Oakley at Southsea police station on 101.