‘Bullied’ boy arsonist has his sentence cut by six months

A teenager whose gang caused nearly £1m of damage in an arson attack which closed off part of a Yorkshire town has had his sentence cut by a quarter after it emerged he was being bullied in custody.

The 15-year-old, who cannot be named for legal reasons, was one of a number of youths who started a fire at Stoneywood Motors, in Sowerby Bridge, near Halifax, which destroyed at least five vehicles.

The boy, who was just 13 at the time of the incident, was sent to a young offenders’ institution for two years at Bradford Crown Court in April after he admitted arson.

But that sentence was reduced to 18 months today after three senior judges at London’s Court of Appeal heard the boy was “vulnerable in custody” and had been moved because of bullying.

Judge John Bevan QC told the court two fires ripped through the car recovery depot in less than 24 hours on December 12, 2009.

The first fire, shortly after 1pm, destroyed a number of vehicles at the site before a second more-serious blaze laid waste to two cherry pickers, two cement mixers and more cars during the evening.

Crews from seven fire stations were tackling the fire at its height, which needed a 100-metre exclusion zone around it because of fears of exploding gas cylinders and containers.

A group of teenagers were later charged with starting the second fire, which caused around £750,000 of damage and endangered the lives of firefighters and security staff, the judge said.

The then 13-year-old admitted he had gone to the site with his friends to see the damage caused by the first fire. He said he was then “peer-pressured” into attempting to start a second blaze, and feeding a fire started by a friend.

An older youth, aged 14 at the time of the fire, was later sentenced to three years detention after he was convicted of arson for his role in the blaze.

Giles Bridge, for the younger boy, today said he had suffered family problems shortly before the arson, and had been “hanging around with the wrong group”.

He told judges his two-year detention term was too long considering the boy had to wait for a long time before receiving his punishment, and has since been bullied at his young offenders’ institution.

Judge Bevan, sitting with Lord Justice Pitchford and Mr Justice Davis, took pity on the youth and cut his detention term by a quarter to 18 months.

He said: “This is not a case where the non-custodial alternative would have begun to reflect the gravity, criminality and obvious danger of the arson.

“The sentencing judge had the great advantage of having presided over the co-defendant’s trial and evidence and was well placed to assess the overall level of criminality.

“However, we feel able, in the light of matters placed before us, his continuing progress having been sentenced, and bearing in mind the lengthy period before his sentence during which his rehabilitation effectively began, to affect a small reduction in the sentence.”