Man who set fire to flat stairway and spat at police officer is jailed

Peter Gunner

Peter Gunner has been jailed - Credit: Essex Police

A Clacton man who put people's lives in danger by starting a fire near a communal staircase has been given a 10-year extended prison sentence. 

Peter Gunner, 32, started a fire near a communal stairway at a block of flats in Pier Avenue, Clacton, in the early hours of April 28 last year. 

The stairway led to two flats and was the only way in and out of the building for the occupants, who were asleep at the time. 

Two men in one of the flats had tried to put the fire out before the fire service arrived, and one had to be taken to hospital after suffering from smoke inhalation. 

Firefighters had to help all four people in the flats escape from the building. 

Around 20 minutes after the fire had been started, the alarm at a vaping shop further along Pier Avenue was activated. 

Police found a rock had been used to smash the front door and stock worth around £809 had been stolen. 

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Officers found Gunner in Marine Parade East around an hour and 20 minutes after the fire was reported. He ran off but was arrested a short time later.

A plastic bag containing stock stolen from the shop was found, as well as a butane torch and gas container, which is thought to have been used to start the fire. 

During further enquiries, he was identified from CCTV stills as being responsible for both the arson and burglary. 

While Gunner was being taken to a police station, he spat a number of times at one officer and attempted to bite and headbutt another. 

Gunner, of Marine Parade East, Clacton, admitted arson with intent to endanger life, burglary, and two counts of assaulting an emergency worker when he appeared at Chelmsford Crown Court in July last year. 

He was sentenced today, Monday, April 12, to a 10-year extended sentence. He must serve six years in prison and will be on an extended licence for four years.

Investigating officer Detective Constable Luke Howard said: “It is extremely fortunate that one of the occupants of the flats had woken up and alerted the two friends with her to the fire, which they then tried to extinguish.

"Their neighbour had been asleep and was only alerted when emergency services arrived. 

“If they hadn’t woken up, the story may have been very different, and they could have died.

“Gunner not only lit the fire at the base of the stairs, which was their only route of escape, he did everything he could to make sure the fire took hold.

“He was chillingly seen on CCTV returning two minutes later to watch the glowing hallway of the property before simply walking away knowing what the potential outcome would be."