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Tuesday, 16 September 2014

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Police kept 24-hour watch on arson suspect, Carlisle court told

An arson suspect was kept under intensive police surveillance for eight and a half months after his home town was hit by a “remarkable” spate of suspicious fires, a court heard.

Related: Pregnant woman and three children had to flee house blaze, Carlisle court told

Police monitored 47-year-old John Brown’s movements round the clock by fitting a camera to keep a watch on his house in Windebrowe Avenue, Keswick.

And they called on him virtually every day – sometimes even twice a day – “seeing what he was up to and generally trying to make the point that they were always around,” prosecuting counsel Tim Evans told a jury at Carlisle Crown Court.

This period of “obvious surveillance” was embarked upon because police suspected that Brown had deliberately started 16 fires – some of them so serious that people’s lives were put in danger, Mr Evans said.

From January 1 2013 – when the last fire was started, in a rubbish bin outside the Oddfellows Arms – and until Brown was arrested and held in custody he had more than 300 “contacts” with the police, and eventually told them he was becoming paranoid about being watched.

“He believed, rightly, that the police were watching his every move,” Mr Evans said.

The court heard that in this period there was only one suspicious fire in Keswick – and that was started by a man burning rubbish rather than take to the tip.

Mr Evans said this helped prove that Brown was the person responsible for all the suspicious fires started in Keswick between March 2011 and January 2013.

“When the defendant is free to move around in Keswick there are these 16 fires which we say can be connected to him, but in the period of the deterrent surveillance there is only one fire – and that is of a wholly different nature,” he said. “Remarkable coincidence? Or all part of the powerful circumstantial evidence showing that he was the fire-raiser on all of these fires?”

The prosecution says that Brown started all the fires at a time when he was drinking heavily after the collapse of his marriage.

Eight of them were in and around Windebrowe Avenue, where he and his wife Linda lived, and eight were started in rubbish bins outside commercial premises in the town centre.

Mr Evans said Brown had a “grudge” against two of those businesses because he had got into trouble with the police over them – the Old Keswickian fish and chip shop, from which he had stolen money while working there, and the Spar shop, from which he had stolen a bottle of vodka.

Brown faces five charges of arson with intent to endanger life, six of arson being reckless as to whether life was endangered and 10 of simple arson.

Although there are 16 fires involved, Brown faces 21 charges because some of the 16 are the subject of two different alternative charges – one more serious than the other – with the jury being asked whether he intended life to be endangered or whether he was just reckless as to whether it would be.

The charges relate to fires spread over nearly two years, from March 2011 to January 2013.

He has pleaded not guilty to them all.

The trial is expected to last all week.

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