AN arsonist aged just 12 years old caused £200,000 worth of damage when he set fire to a major housing development in Portsmouth.
The boy and his friend sparked a blaze in a stairwell after climbing over a fence to get into homes being built in the grounds of St Mary’s Church, Fratton.
The fire caused a huge amount of damage and set back the development, being built for Drum Housing Association, by six weeks.
The boy, now aged 13, was convicted of arson at Fareham Youth Court after giving a confused account of who was to blame for the fire on June 27 last year.
He told the court that he lit one match in the stairwell and it went out, while his friend lit a further three and dropped them on some polystyrene which burst into flames.
He said: ‘You could see smoke and he (the friend) started running. I tried to put it out with my foot.’
The court heard that when questioned by police he had originally denied starting the blaze, but at a later interview he confessed to the crime.
He then went on to retract his statement and to plead not guilty in court. Asked in court why he had confessed, he said: ‘I said it because I wanted to come out of the police station because I wanted to go home. I had been there for a long time’.
Prosecutor David Olley said: ‘The most likely cause in relation to the fire was an application of a naked flame between the stairwell. He went on to admit that he did play a part in starting the fire and explained how he did so.’
The court heard that the boy, who lives in Portsmouth, suffered from attention deficit disorder, autism and was mentally immature. Hugh Pringle, defending, said: ‘This was a serious matter. I want to make the point for his sake that this isn’t a game, it’s a serious situation and it needs to be looked at in this way.’
Magistrate Paul Wilkinson, said: ‘We have found that the Crown have proven their case and that you did start the fire.
‘In both the first and second interview you said that you lit a match. We found that with another you jointly committed arson. This was a serious fire. Lives were put at risk.’
The boy’s friend, 13, had pleaded guilty at an earlier hearing. Both will have to report to a youth offending team for supervision for 12 months.