Arsonist who set fire to his own home loses appeal

The bungalow after the fire
The bungalow after the fire

AN unemployed man has lost his appeal against his prison sentence for deliberately torching his housing association home so he could be moved elsewhere.

Edwin Harris, 43, caused thousands of pounds of damage when he set fire to the bungalow in Carpenter Drive, St Leonards, after vowing he would ‘do anything not to go back’.

Harris, now of Brookfields, Hadlow, near Tonbridge, was jailed for three-and-a-half years at Lewes Crown Court last year after he admitted arson being reckless as to whether life was endangered.

Three senior judges, sitting at London’s Court of Appeal on Tuesday, endorsed the prison term, saying his ‘calculated act’ could have killed firefighters or neighbours.

Barry Myers, representing Harris, said he had never worked, lived on disability allowance, and had developed an ‘unusual’ friendship with Freda Norman, a woman in her 80s.

The court heard the bungalow where the two lived had been damaged by a fire, thought to have been started by youths, in September 2010, and they were moved to temporary accommodation.

After being heard saying he ‘would do anything not to go back there’, Harris was seen entering the property two months later, having asked AmicusHorizon for the key, Mr Justice Stadlen said.

Shortly afterwards, the building was ablaze again, with the entire roof being destroyed by fire. A total of £60,000 of damage was caused by the two blazes, the judge said.

The court heard Harris, who was arrested with three lighters after the fire, was believed to have started it so he and Mrs Norman would be rehoused, together, somewhere else.

Mr Myers said his client’s actions were ‘bizarre’, but insisted he should have been given a softer sentence because of his mental health problems.

Mr Justice Stadlen, sitting with Lord Justice Hooper and Mr Justice Simon, rejected the appeal, saying that Harris’ crime had ‘deliberately destroyed a building that would otherwise be useful to homeless people or those with a low income’.

He said: “There can be no doubt but that there was a very deliberate intention by the appellant to cause so much additional damage to his housing association bungalow as to render it uninhabitable, thereby allowing himself, from the point of view of housing, the possibility of being rehoused with Mrs Norman.

“It was a calculated act to give him a very tangible personal benefit.”