Arsonist jailed for setting light to Fareham police station cell

Christopher Byles
Christopher Byles
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ARSONIST Christopher Byles put 10 prisoners’ lives at risk when he set fire to a mattress in a police station cell.

Portsmouth Crown Court heard the 25-year-old was put in custody after he was arrested over a domestic incident.

But Byles was not searched by police before he was put in the cell at Fareham police station.

He used a cigarette lighter hidden in his sock to set fire to a code of practice book and the mattress.

Officers battled through thick smoke to free Byles and others in their cells.

Prosecutor Jane Terry read the account of the officer who freed Byles.

Reading Detective Constable Owen Woods’ account she said: ‘What I dealt with today has got to be the most dangerous situation I’ve ever been in. Not only for the prisoners locked in the cells but for me whose duty it is to save life.

‘Looking back on the dangers I was in, it was really quite overwhelming.

‘I feel that my life and that of others has been put in danger by the irresponsible actions of others.’

His account described how Byles’ cell was almost entirely filled with smoke and when he opened it Byles was slumped in a ball on the floor.

Det Con Woods took him to an evacuation area but returned to remove others.

Two staff were taken to Queen Alexandra Hospital for smoke inhalation.

Byles admitted one charge of arson reckless as to whether life endangered after the fire on October 18 last year.

Judge Roger Hetherington sentenced him to two years in prison.

He said Byles had not been co-operative when he was arrested but told officers he had suicidal thoughts and was in a considerable state at the station.

Judge Hetherington said: ‘Whether it was strictly a suicide attempt, you made a determined effort to set fire to the cell.

‘There were about 10 other prisoners in the cells and they and the police and other staff who were at the location had their lives put at risk.

‘This was a very serious incident which could have had disastrous consequences.’

The court heard Byles, of Forton Road, Gosport, previously received a warning for arson in 2003, and has convictions for assault and battery in 2011.

Daniel Reilly, defending, said: ‘He’s certainly sorry for that risk, which was created to others, which he himself, in that moment, had not even considered as a possibility.’