BREAKING NEWS: Saffron Walden man jailed for setting fire to bank

PUBLISHED: 16:49 27 March 2009 | UPDATED: 21:44 31 May 2010

Man jailed for fire

Man jailed for fire

A 21-YEAR-OLD Saffron Walden man who in a drunken prank set fire to the town s local Lloyds TSB causing damage worth over £1million was today jailed for 12 months by Chelmsford Crown Court. The court had been told that John Watson, of Thaxted Road, took

A 21-YEAR-OLD Saffron Walden man who in a drunken "prank" set fire to the town's local Lloyds TSB causing damage worth over £1million was today jailed for 12 months by Chelmsford Crown Court.

The court had been told that John Watson, of Thaxted Road, took a bundle of newspapers, set light to them in the foyer of the bank and then vanished.

However, CCTV photos were shown around the town by police officers with the result that Watson was arrested at his home 23 hours later. Cannabis was discovered on the premises.

Sentencing Watson before a packed public gallery, Judge Christopher Ball QC, said: "Setting fire is a dangerous act and cannot be tolerated. He set a fire in Lloyds TSB in the historic centre of Saffron Walden and caused immense damage.

"It was a major incident - causing alarm and consternation - at the end of a night of drinking and possibly drug taking."

Watson admitted arson and theft of an umbrella and newspapers, on April 21 2007, and possession of cannabis the next day.

Det Con Rob Dix, formerly of Saffron Walden CID, said afterwards: "He was caught by a combination of CCTV and old fashioned bobbies making enquires by showing his photo to people in the area."

Damage to the property involving the building and the cost of renewing equipment was £1,190,259.13 paid for by insurance. A temporary office had to be set up and operated for six months.

Prosecutor Gareth Hughes said: "This offence took place in the early hours of April 21 2007 just before 3am in Market Square, Saffron Walden. A young woman, Amy Jeffrey was woken by the crackling of burning wood near her second floor flat."

He said that after she had raised the fire alarm and got out she discovered the next door building was "ablaze".

Watson, who had been drinking in the Temeraire pub, had also taken an umbrella from the beer garden of the Cross Keys pub and stolen a bundle of newspapers from Harts Newsagents.

Mr Hughes said: "It would appear the fire took hold because the self closing door was propped open and the fire was extinguished at 4.50am, with damage to the interior of the building."

Arrested the next day, Watson made no comment but his counsel, William Clegg, said he had "no recollection of the evening", although he had "no intention to endanger life".

He added: "He was extremely drunk and clearly had no appreciation that the fire might take hold. It was out of character and although the value of the damage was frightening in size, it included upgrade of equipment.

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