Man fuelled by drugs started fire near flats

York Crown Court
York Crown Court

A £10 debt led to a Scarborough man setting a fire outside a neighbour’s flat door, causing those inside to fear for their lives, a court was told.

One of those inside the flat at the time was a retained fireman, who later told the police that if it had not been for the working fire alarm in the flat, things could have been worse.

Benjamin Middlemiss, 19, set the fire outside the premises in New Queen Street, on January 24, this year, using a disposable cigarette lighter and a piece of cloth.

However, the former £400 a week cannabis user later claimed he had not intended to hurt anyone, expecting the lighter to explode in the burning cloth and startle the occupants of the flat.

Alan Mitcheson, prosecuting before York Crown Court, said that before the fire Middlemiss, who lived in a flat across the road, had been arguing about the debt, shouting up at the flat from the road outside and threatening to “torch” the premises if the money was not forthcoming.

Fuelled on cannabis, Middlemiss went home and then returned to set the fire in the early hours of the morning as the occupants were retiring to bed.

Middlemiss pleaded guilty to a charge of arson, being reckless as to whether life was endangered, and was sentenced to two years in a Young Offenders Institution.

For Middlemiss, Ruth Cranige said that following problems her client moved away from his family and friends in Kirkbymoorside and had been living in Scarborough relying more and more on Cannabis, spending up to £400 a week on the drug.

She added that following his arrest Middlemiss told the police: “What I did was stupid” and: “I just wanted to make a bang and startle them.”

Passing sentence, The Recorder of York, Judge Stephen Ashurst, told Middlemiss he had acted in “an irresponsible way as part of a stupid dispute”.