A MECHANIC sobbed with relief as he was cleared of setting fire to his own business.
A jury acquitted Anthony Kemp of arson following a two-week trial at Portsmouth Crown Court.
Mr Kemp, of London Road, Horndean, said it had brought an end to a difficult two-and-a-half-years since he was arrested.
The 45-year-old stood accused of setting fire to T Coachbuilders Ltd, a unit on the Larchwood Industrial Estate, next to Asda at Bedhampton.
The trial had been told there were 31 separate 999 calls in a matter of minutes as the industrial unit and vehicles inside went up in flames.
Flames of 15ft were seen leaping from the roof of Unit 1 and heat and smoke damage spread to two units next door.
The prosecution’s case was that Mr Kemp returned from a trip to Buckingham at about 6pm and said the mechanic – who was the only person with keys to the unit – unset an infrared sensor alarm.
Prosecutor Philip Meredith had argued that Mr Kemp drove off while the industrial estate was engulfed in smoke.
But Mr Kemp’s defence had always been that the blaze started in a horsebox, where he had been welding earlier that day.
He had told police there was ‘nothing to gain’ from starting a fire.
The jury of seven women and five men went to visit the scene of the fire – which took place on the evening October 6, 2012 – as part of the trial.
After just over two hours of deliberations, they found Mr Kemp not guilty.
Wearing a green hoodie and jeans, Mr Kemp looked relieved as he was told by Judge Sarah Munro QC that he was free to go.
He cried outside the courtroom.
He told The News: ‘I’m glad it’s over.
‘I have had two-and-a-half years of living under suspicion. I can get on with my life.
‘I can start again and rebuild my life.’
He added: ‘I’m just so pleased it’s come to an end and the right verdict has come about.’
Firefighters from stations in Cosham, Havant, Southsea, Portchester, Eastleigh, Fareham and Southampton were sent out to the fire, which was described as ferocious.
Early indications were that the blaze was accidental, but around a week later Mr Kemp was arrested.