Pub arsonist jailed - Dunstable

29/08/2012

An arsonist who destroyed an historic coaching inn, The Norman King, has been jailed today, Wednesday, 29 August 2012, for seven and a half years.

The thatched 12th Century Inn in Dunstable, Bedfordshire, a listed building, was damaged beyond repair in August last year after fire took hold of the thatched roof.

Richard Waters, 43, pleaded not guilty to arson being reckless as to whether life would be endangered, but was convicted by a jury, in June.

He claimed to have no memory of starting the fire, and had no reason to do so. He had been drinking heavily and had taken cocaine.

Prosecutor Will Noble told Luton Crown Court that the loss of Dunstable's oldest building had caused "considerable disquiet" to residents of the town. The building was in the process of being refurbished and was closed at the time. It had been due to reopen in September last year as a function room. No figure had been put on the loss.

Mr. Noble said the fire started just before midnight on 09 August last year and led to 50 people from neighbouring houses and the Old Palace Lodge Hotel next door being evacuated. Fortunately the fire did not spread, but the pub could not be saved. The manager was also not sleeping there that night.

He said that images recovered from the CCTV hard drive showed a man with shoulder length scruffy hair in a pony tail, sit down on the step at the front of the Norman King before rolling a cigarette and lighting it. The man struggled to get to his feet and crouched down again.

The court was told that the man then took a swig from a bottle, glanced up at the roof and moved away, returning six minutes later, possibly to see if the fire had taken hold.

Police also had sightings of the same man leaving the Nag's Head in Dunstable, just minutes before the fire was started.

Waters, of Western Way, Dunstable was arrested after images from the Nag's Head CCTV were published in the local media and he was recognised by a woman who had known him for ten years.

When he was arrested, police found a newspaper cutting relating to the arson on his bedside table. They also recovered items of clothing, which matched those worn by the man seen on the CCTV from the Norman King.

The fire damage was so intense that fire investigators were unable to carry out a full investigation, but the evidence is consistent with the fire being set using a naked flame to the underside of the thatch above the front door.

Mr. Noble said: "We say the man in the CCTV deliberately set fire to the Norman King and was reckless as to whether the fire which followed endangered the lives of others. We may never know what his motive for doing so was."

Miss Madeleine Wolfe, defending said Waters continues to deny the offence. "He has said he has absolutely no reason to commit the offence, but accepts that does not lessen the impact of such a crime. He is very sorry that this has happened to such a nice old building."

She continued: "He is not hiding behind a convenient mental blackout, it is a recognised medical condition for those addicted to alcohol and other substances."

Judge Stuart Bridge told Waters: "This was deliberate and premeditated causing the loss of a building of real historical importance that was held in great affection by the people of Dunstable. It cannot be replaced and has caused significant financial loss.

"You struck in the middle of the night and the risk of death or serious injury was very real."

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