Teenagers locked up for school fire

TWO teenagers have been locked up for causing hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of damage to a school in an arson attack.The pair both pleaded guilty to arson and were each given a 12-month custodial sentence when they appeared at Chelmsford Crown Court yesterday.

By Annie Davidson

TWO teenagers have been locked up for causing hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of damage to a school in an arson attack.

The pair both pleaded guilty to arson and were each given a 12-month custodial sentence when they appeared at Chelmsford Crown Court yesterday.

The 16-year-old girl and 14-year-old boy, who cannot be named for legal reasons, started a fire at Colbayns High School in Clacton on the May 30 last year.


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Fire ripped through a science block on the bank holiday Monday and damage was estimated at the time to be worth £270,000. There was a further £111,000 worth of fixtures and fittings destroyed in the blaze.

The defendants showed no emotion yesterday as they were told by Judge Anthony Goldstaub QC: “You both need some boundaries set in a place with clear rules and discipline and the public as well as yourselves need to appreciate that courts will impose custodial sentences in cases of behaviour of this kind.”

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The boy was given 12 months' detention in secure accommodation but was told he would serve only half the sentence in custody.

The girl was given a 12-month detention and training order and will also only serve half the sentence in custody. Her mother broke down in tears as the pair were led away by a security officer.

Geoffrey Porter, prosecuting, told the court the school's fire alarms sounded at about 2.10pm on May and what turned out to be a “very substantial blaze” took hold in a prep room adjoining classroom 924 in the school's science block.

Mr Porter said fire investigators found a broken window in the classroom and a stool placed on a bench outside so entry to the property could be gained.

Further investigations revealed the school's CCTV system had recorded children on the roof of the building at about the time the fire would have been started.

The following day, the girl spoke to a pupil at the school and gave the impression she knew something about what had happened.

Mr Porter said: “After investigations by the police both these defendants were arrested then interviewed and during the course of these interviews it was eventually established both had been at the science block at about the time the fire started.”

Both defendants initially blamed the other for starting the fire but entered guilty pleas to arson in November on the day their trial was due to start.

Mark Himsworth, mitigating for the boy, handed in character references for him and a psychiatric and pre-sentence report which had been ordered by the court.

He said the youngster was a “suggestible young man” who had had a lack of supervision at the time of the offence.

Mr Himsworth said he was genuinely remorseful about the fire and had been “under maternally imposed house arrest” ever since.

He added appearing in court was “a salutary reminder to him of the importance of good behaviour.”

Matthew Gowen, mitigating for the girl, also gave in a pre-sentence and psychiatric report for the judge to consider.

He said the girl had been bullied and moved schools and that this background had caused deterioration in her behaviour.

But Mr Gowen added the teenager had “the great benefit of a very good family unit with her parents clearly supportive” and that she had a “mature attitude to the ramifications of her behaviour.”

He said she had returned to the girl she had been before she was bullied and was “well mannered, polite, helping with the family, helping round the house and getting back to her schoolwork.”

Judge Goldstaub said the teenagers were both “immature” and added: “Burning down a school is simply not acceptable to this court any more than it is acceptable to the communities of which schools of this kind form a part.”

No-one at Colbayns High School could be reached for a comment last night.

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