A "PERSECUTED" churchman is defiant after his church was set alight in a racially motivated arson attack.

Rev Dr Femi Olowo of the Jubilee International Church, Mayeswood Road, Grove Park, says his congregation is still rejoicing despite the £305,000 building being left with smoke damage.

Police have launched an inquiry into the blaze and are appealing for witnesses.

Officers say whoever was responsible climbed over the church's iron railings and started the fire at the back of the building.

Dr Olowo says he was not surprised when he heard about the attack.

He said: "I have a good idea who has done this. There has been opposition since we set up our church here earlier in the year.

"It's part of Christianity to expect persecution and Jesus said love your neighbours and bless those who persecute you.

"But in fighting us, they are fighting against God. Nobody can fight God and win."

Dr Olowo say the culprits made a bonfire at the back of the building and smoke seeped through into the church.

He added: "The church still smells of smoke a week on. Most of the inside of the building is stained with soot and will need repainting."

The news come after a turbulent settling-in period for the 40 members of the Pentecostal church.

Residents have raised concerns about noise levels and parking since the former Baptist church reopened under its new name on July 8.

Two fire crews from Downham and Eltham fought the blaze on August 8 after being called at 1.47am.

The 10 firefighters spent less than an hour at the scene but were called back at 7.30am after builders renovating the church reported the fire was still smouldering.

Investigating officer Detective Chief Inspector Sean Wanless said: "We understand previous incidents of racially-motivated vandalism and aggravation have occurred at the church.

"To cause damage to a place of worship is a terrible thing to do.

"I am appealing to anyone who may have seen or heard anything in the vicinity of Mayeswood Road to call the police."

Anyone with information should call Lewisham police on 020 8284 8448 or Crimestoppers on 0800 555111.