AN arson attack is now believed to have been responsible for a fire that gutted the ground-floor of the former Central Hotel in Birkenhead last night.

Firefighters wearing breathing apparatus entered the three-storey building and began to fight the blaze, which was covering a significant area of the ground-floor.

The first and second floors were heavily smoke damaged and crews began to search and ventilate these areas while efforts to put out the flames continued on the ground-floor.

The fire was extinguished by 10.50pm and all floors were then searched and checked for any indication of further risk.

Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service said the cause is now thought to be deliberate.

Appliances from Birkenhead, Wallasey, Kensington, Liverpool city centre and Toxteth attended.

The alarm was raised at around 9pm and crews left the scene at 11.40pm.

The hotel, bar and restaurant on Clifton Crescent has been closed since 2014.