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Tuesday, 29 July 2014

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Arsonist given life in jail warning by Carlisle judge

An arsonist responsible for a terrifying campaign of fires has been warned he could be facing life in jail.

John Brown photo
John Brown

Related: Arson accused ‘not arch villain’ Carlisle court told

Judge Peter Hughes QC told John Brown he was duty bound to consider imposing a sentence of life imprisonment after he was convicted of 16 arson attacks near his Keswick home following a 10-day trial.

The court heard how Brown, 48, will now be assessed by a psychiatrist who will draw up a report examining the danger he poses to the public.

The jury, who returned unanimous verdicts at Carlisle Crown Court, heard how five of the fires spread to homes, prompting a pregnant woman and her family to flee their house, and an elderly woman to be rescued from another property.

“One of the issues the psychiatrist will have to consider is the danger Mr Brown poses to the general public in the future,” Judge Hughes said.

“If I am satisfied that he poses a danger because of the risk of further fire setting, I am required, by law, to pass a sentence of life imprisonment.”

The judge told the jury of four men and seven woman they had overseen a “very worrying” case, which was particularly serious.

Brown was found guilty of 10 arson charges and six of arson being reckless as to whether life was endangered. He was cleared of five alternative charges of arson with intent to endanger life.

Judge Hughes told him what he had done “amounted to a campaign of arson in the Keswick area over a year”.

The court heard earlier in the trial how Brown, of Windebrowe Avenue, Keswick, had seemed to gain “a perverse thrill” from putting people’s lives at risk, even if he did not actually intend to kill anyone.

Eight of the fires, which took place between March 2011 and January last year, were started in rubbish bins outside commercial premises in the town centre, but Brown also set light to a caravan, a car and several houses.

In one blaze – on the night of August 14, 2012 – he started a fire in some cardboard, which spread to a garden shed outside the house opposite his own.

The householder, Lynda Stobbart, was there with her pregnant daughter, Jayne Hunter, Jayne’s partner, Kieron Rumney, and three of her children, prosecutor Tim Evans said.

Ms Hunter went into her children’s bedroom, which was filled with thick smoke, after being woken by fire alarms. “She took her children downstairs and, as she was leaving the house, the flames were licking up the side of the house outside the landing window.”

Mr Evans said that after another fire, on November 21, 2012, Brown had been hailed a hero for rescuing an elderly neighbour. Only later did police realise he had started the fire himself.

Police became suspicious of Brown, said Mr Evans, because so many of the fires occurred near his home. Others were started at the Old Keswickian fish and chip shop, The Inn at Keswick, the Cotswold camping store, the Golden Lion, the Oddfellows Arms, and three at the Spar shop in Shorley Lane.

Mr Evans said those targets provided another clue as to who was responsible.

In July 2008, Brown was jailed for stealing from the Old Keswickian chip shop, where he worked, and he had received a police caution for stealing a bottle of vodka from the Spar shop.

“There is a motive here for a number of the fires – grudges, settling scores, taking revenge,” Mr Evans said.

Speaking after the case, Katie Nicolson, senior prosecutor with Crown Prosecution Service North West, said Brown “took revenge and settled scores by setting fire to the property and homes of those he held grudges against”.

“He put lives at risk on many occasions and it was only by chance that no one was seriously hurt or killed by his actions,” she said.

“He was even hailed as a hero in the local media when he saved an elderly lady from a fire he had in fact started himself.”

Brown was remanded in custody until he is sentenced next month.

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