Man is convicted of starting flat blaze

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A Scarborough man with a past “fascination” with fire has been convicted of starting a blaze in a town centre flat.

After lighting the fire Gareth Stannard turned up at the home of a relative stranger, armed with a fire extinguisher, and admitted what he had done, telling another to say he had not been around if the police asked.

A jury at York Crown Court returned a majority guilty verdict on a charge of arson, being reckless as to whether life would be endangered, a charge which Stannard, 20, of North Marine Road, following a trial which started on Wednesday last week.

Stannard was convicted of, and given a custodial sentence, starting a fire with petrol, damaging a house door in his home village of Gate Helmsley in order to appear “macho” in front of his friends when aged 14.

He told the jury he had received two years of psychiatric and psychological treatment and no long had a “fascination” with fire and starting blazes.

The latest blaze, at an unoccupied ground floor flat in Raleigh Street in the early hours of January 1, was said by Christopher Smith, prosecuting, to have been started by Stannard placing a sofa cushion on a lit cooker hob.

The court heard how after calling on Aiden Wilson and saying that he had started the fire, Stannard then left, claiming that he was returning to put it out, before turning up again at Mr Wilson’s Gladstone Street flat with his face and hands covered in soot.

In the intervening time the fire brigade had attended at the blaze and found Stannard there, he later telling the police: “I was the one that put it [the fire] out.”

He claimed to have entered the flat and tried to put the flames out.

Denying that his previous fascination with fire was behind what happened, Stannard also disagreed with Mr Smith that he had been “playing the hero” by returning to the flat, trying to put out the flames and then assisting the fire brigade when they arrived.

Stannard also claimed that some of the witnesses were, for reasons unknown to him, lying.

Following the jury’s verdict, sentencing was adjourned to a date to be fixed for psychiatric and pre-sentence reports.

Stannard was remanded in custody by The Recorder of York, Judge Stephen Ashurst.