Mechanic accused of setting fire to his own business in Bedhampton

A PCSO at the scene of the serious fire at Larchwood Avenue, Bedhampton
A PCSO at the scene of the serious fire at Larchwood Avenue, Bedhampton
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A MAN set fire to his own business and drove off as it became engulfed in a huge blaze, a court heard.

Anthony Kemp is accused of setting fire to T Coachbuilders Ltd, a unit on the Larchwood Industrial Estate, next to Asda at Bedhampton.

A jury at Portsmouth Crown Court was 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 jumping from the roof of Unit 1 and heat and smoke damage spread to two units next door.

Prosecutor Philip Meredith said Kemp returned from a trip to Buckingham at about 6pm and said Kemp – who was the only person with keys to the unit – unset an infrared sensor alarm. He said: ‘Smoke had entered the roof space of Unit 3 by 6.39pm – one minute after the alarm was unset by the defendant.

‘It was at exactly 6.42pm that the first of a total of 31 separate 999 calls were made by members of the public reporting a fire in Unit 1 with smoke billowing out of the roof line.’

The crown’s case is that the seat of the fire was a Renault lorry and it spread to a nearby Scania horsebox.

The steel roof of the unit started to melt and it must have been more than 500C for this to happen, said Mr Meredith.

‘That was the ferocity and intensity of this fire,’ he said.

He added: ‘The temperature at head height would have been noticeably hotter than normal.

‘There would have been the smells and sounds associated with such a fire gaining significant hold.

‘Despite that he drove off, leaving the premises and vehicles in it to be engulfed in flames.’

Ian Francis, a firefighter from Cosham fire station, was first on the scene that night, on October 6, 2012.

‘There was quite a fierce fire,’ he said.

Firefighters had to remove a gas cylinder.

Mr Francis said crews had to break the hatches on the steel shutters to start tackling the fire before Kemp turned up in a 4x4 with the keys.

Kemp, 45, of London Road, Horndean, who denies arson, said the blaze must have started in the horsebox, where he had been welding earlier that day. He had told police there was ‘nothing to gain’ from starting a fire.

But Mr Meredith said Kemp’s version of events was ‘frankly implausible’ and said it was not a smouldering fire that developed over a long period of time.

The court heard Kemp co-owned the business with Anthony Schwarz, who lived abroad. The unit was rented from Rangeten Ltd from February 2012.

The trial is expected to last more than two weeks.