AN arsonist torched two cars on a Carlisle residential street in the middle of the night and watched them burn.

An explosion was heard as 21-year-old Ryan Thompson set fire to a Renault Clio and a Seat Ibiza on Buchanan Road, Currock, on February 10 last year. Householders were evacuated by fast-responding police.

Just before the incident, Thompson visited a nearby Esso garage, where he was known by staff, filling a jerry can with £7 worth of fuel which he used in the crime before watching as the vehicles burned. A quick-thinking police officer obtained CCTV stills showing bag-carrying Thompson, whose DNA was found on a burned glove nearby.

Wayne Jackson, prosecuting, told Carlisle Crown Court: “A fire officer says had they not been able to get to the scene so quickly, the fire would have spread.”

At the time, Thompson was struggling to come to terms with the breakdown of his relationship with Danielle Beattie, and that her new partner was his best friend.

Miss Beattie’s mother, Teresa - the Clio’s owner - was left “traumatised” by the incident. “Her dad had purchased the car for her,” said Mr Jackson. “It was the last thing he had done before becoming unwell.”

Neither she nor the Seat owner were paid the full value of their vehicles by insurers and were left with inflated premiums.

Thompson, a young man without previous convictions who admitted arson being reckless, had been suffering from an adjustment disorder at the time.

“It is an offence that happened as a result of this young man, with difficulties, struggling to deal with a relationship breakdown,” said Clare Thomas, defending.

“He accepts full responsibility for his offending and is extremely remorseful for his actions.”

After considering background reports, hearing strong personal mitigation and concluding there was a realistic prospect of rehabilitation, Recorder Eric Lamb suspended a 20-month prison sentence for two years.

Thompson, of Durranhill Road, Carlisle, must also complete a rehabilitation requirement.

Recorder Lamb said: “Quite what was going through your mind on that night is something you yourself struggle to explain.”