Hollesley/Great Yarmouth: Dangerous arsonist torched shop and flat while on the run from open prison

AN ARSONIST assessed as “minimal risk” to the public by Hollesley Bay open prison tried to burn down a man’s flat after absconding while on work placement.

Edward Macdonald is now serving an indeterminate sentence to run alongside his previous life-term, after pleading guilty to arson with intent to endanger life and arson, when he appeared before Norwich Crown Court.

Macdonald went on the run from Ipswich on June 28 after 16 years in jail for arson with intent to endanger life as he had attempted to set light to a block of flats.

Despite a judge’s warning that Macdonald was likely to be “very dangerous and put other people’s lives at risk”, the 46-year-old was allowed out of Hollesley Bay to work at Ransomes Europark in Ipswich.

Three months later Macdonald tried to burn down a shop in Great Yarmouth, and the occupied flat above it.

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When asked about the incident a Prison Service spokeswoman said: “Only prisoners representing minimal risk of escape and harm to the public are eligible for release on temporary licence.”

Macdonald will now face prison disciplinary proceedings and it is understood any review of the assessment criteria for prisoners at Hollesley would be determined by the outcome.

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Following Macdonald’s sentencing, a Prison Service spokeswoman said: “Prisoners may be released on temporary licence providing they meet strict criteria and pass a rigorous risk assessment.

“If prisoners breach their licence in any way, they will be subject to disciplinary proceedings and may be returned to a higher security prison.”

Macdonald was arrested after setting light to cardboard left near a dustbin outside Crown Stores in Crown Road, Great Yarmouth, at just before 9pm on September 16.

A man in his 60s was in the flat above the store at the time, although it is understood that he was uninjured despite damage to the shop’s door, wall and a window of the flat.

Firefighters were particularly concerned as there was a gas pipe near to where the fire began.

CCTV images showed Macdonald approaching where the blaze started, before leaving the scene.

Macdonald then set light to bushes near the Amazonia Butterfly Farm in Marine Parade.

In addition to the arsons, he was charged with possessing a claw hammer, three knives, a chisel and a half pair of scissors. He denied the charge, which will lay on file.

Macdonald’s indeterminate sentence, which will run for a minimum of three years, is to run concurrently with his life imprisonment jail term.

When he was jailed at Lewes Crown Court in July 1996 for arson in Eastbourne, Judge Richard Brown said: “This offence of arson is very serious and could have had disastrous consequences.

“The medical reports indicate to me that if you are at liberty you are likely to be very dangerous and put other people’s lives at risk. The only appropriate sentence is one of life imprisonment.”

Macdonald had admitted setting fire to a block of flats in Seaside by using a pot of paint and unopened mail to start a blaze on a communal staircase.

A visitor was injured putting the fire out.

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