TWO men from Portsmouth have been jailed after they went on a spree of setting fire to cars, causing tens of thousands of pounds of damage.
Shaun Gibbs and Michael Spencer destroyed 17 cars in the Leigh Park and Havant area over the space of a month.
The pair would drive round until they spotted a vehicle they wanted to target.
They set fire to cars on driveways outside houses, near garages or parked on the roads, often dialling 999 themselves and staying behind to watch the havoc they had caused. They were caught after Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service noticed the same phone number had reported a number of the fires.
Firefighters were warned to look out for anything suspicious and when they spotted the pair for a second time at the scene of a blaze they pointed them out to the police.
Gibbs, 28, of Goldsmith Avenue, Southsea and Spencer, 25, of Allaway Avenue, Paulsgrove, Portsmouth, both pleaded guilty to a charge of conspiracy to commit arson between September 1 and October 10 last year at Portsmouth Crown Court.
Psychiatric reports showed both men had difficulties which led to impulsive behaviour.
Judge Roger Hetherington jailed them both for two years and eight months.
Station manager Graham Howlett, head of Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service’s fire investigation and arson reduction team, said: ‘These convictions send out a strong message to any would-be arsonists, who think they can toy with the public or the emergency services in this way.
‘The fast and thorough work carried out by our investigation teams, in conjunction with the police, ensured these criminals were caught before their actions caused any greater harm.
‘Once we had established a pattern of car fires, we found the same phone number had been calling our control room to report them.
‘We put word out to our stations in the east of the county to be aware of anything suspicious at the scenes, as “firesetters” are known for remaining at the scene of their ignitions.
‘Our Havant crew then noticed Spencer and Gibbs at the scene of one of the vehicle fires, having also spotted them at another blaze the previous week.
‘Our crew pointed them out to police, who searched their car and discovered the materials that eventually led to their prosecutions. This result was achieved thanks to the excellent collaborative work of several teams across the service and also with Hampshire Constabulary’s crime scene investigators. We hope the sentence will act as a deterrent in the future.’