Two teenagers have been convicted of starting a fire that caused more than £1 million of damage in Uckfield, Sussex Police have reported today.
The Police have issued the following news release following the completion of court proceedings:
The fire was caused by plastic containers being set alight and thrown in a bin in Olives Yard, off High Street in the town shortly before 11pm on September 2 last year.
The offenders then fled as the flames spread to nearby shops and offices.
At the height of the incident, 40 firefighters were tackling the blaze and a nearby block of flats had to be evacuated in case the fire spread further.
By the time crews had put out the flames, four buildings housing six businesses and charities had suffered severe damage.
The damage to the buildings alone is estimated at £1 million. The two charities involved – Sense and British Heart Foundation – lost their entire stock which was not insured.
Other nearby properties also suffered smoke damage and lost trade as customers were kept away by the clean-up operation.
The incident was caught on camera and footage showed three men running from the scene shortly before the fire took hold.
Officers arrested Geraint Purton, Adam Bushell and Zac Fairman.
All three were found not guilty of causing arson being reckless as to life would be endangered when they appeared at Hove Crown Court.
Bushell, 18, of Luxford Close, Uckfield, pleaded guilty to an alternate charge of arson and Purton, 19, of Parklands, Maresfield, was convicted of the same charge by a jury.
Fairman, 18, of Vernon Road, Uckfield, was found not guilty of arson.
At Hove Crown Court Bushell was sentenced to nine months in prison, suspended for two years. He was also made the subject of a two year supervision order and was told to do 180 hours of unpaid work.
Purton was jailed for 12 months for the arson. He was also sentenced to two years in prison for 14 burglaries in East Sussex, to be served after he has completed his sentence for arson.
Detective Constable Sean Stapley, of East Sussex CID, said: “This incident caused a considerable amount of damage and has had a major impact on the residents and businesses of Uckfield.
“A moment of ignorance turned a harmless game into a dangerous fire.
“Thankfully, no-one was injured as a result of the fire and I would like to thank the community of Uckfield in helping those evacuated on the night.
“But the sentences handed down in court show how serious this incident was.”