Burnley street evacuated after blaze: man jailed

Robert Simpson
Robert Simpson

A man has been jailed for three years and four months for causing a “huge” blaze which led to a Burnley street being evacuated in February.

Burnley Crown Court heard how Robert Simpson (23), of Melville Street, Burnley, started the fire in the back garden of a vacant house in Elgin Crescent by lighting fencing and furniture.

Recorder Paul Parry said, although the fire was not started to endanger life and no accelerant was used, it was a matter of yards from Junior Francis’s home and was reckless.

The court heard the fire sent thick black smoke into the air and the fire service deemed it serious enough to evacuate the whole of Elgin Crescent.

Miss Sarah Barlow (prosecuting) told the court there was history between Simpson and Mr Francis and some of the abuse aimed at Mr Francis by the former in the past had been racial.

Miss Barlow said, on February 22nd, Mr Francis had come home and overheard three males in the back garden of next door.

Simpson was overheard to say “set it up near the fence as when it starts it will blaze up”, the court heard. Miss Barlow said there was a “loud bang” and Mr Francis saw a sofa and fencing panels had been set alight. He phoned the fire brigade.

Simpson was seen running off down Cog Lane. On arrest, he said he had phoned 999 but no such call was made, the court heard.

Mr Mark Stuart (defending) said it was fortunate nobody was hurt but stressed to the court the “significant difference” of the fire being started outside rather than inside and that no accelerants were used.

Mr Stuart said the incident happened when Simpson was at a particularly low ebb. He said Simpson had a history of ADHD and drug problems.

But he said Simpson, who achieved an A in maths, was on the Carrot scheme with the probation service which “seems to have brought him to his sense” and was working more hours than he probably had in his whole adult life.

Sentencing, Recorder Parry said the discussion before the fire was started was “extremely reckless”. The Recorder said at one time Simpson and Francis had been friends but that relationship had soured.

Recorder Parry said between 2007 and 2013 Simpson’s record was “frankly littered” with public disorder offences, very many with racial aspects. Recorder Parry added the community was no doubt “thoroughly sick” of his behaviour.

Recorder Parry said: “This was an offence where there was a real risk to occupiers next door.”

Simpson was told he would serve half his sentence in prison and the rest on licence. He was also ordered to pay a victim surcharge of £120.