November 24 2014 Latest news:
Friday, September 5, 2014
A Norfolk businessman who set fire to his £1m family firm after he ran up gambling losses of tens of thousands of pounds and the company started to falter has been jailed for six years.
Justin Hindry set fire to the Aylsham Bathroom and Kitchen Centre in June 2012, before making a fraudulent insurance claim for the blaze.
The business, on Burgh Road, was destroyed by the fire, with the blaze causing substantial damage not only to the premises but also to neighbouring properties.
All nine people who worked there lost their jobs following the fire, started by Hindry, who the prosecution described as having a gambling habit “of not inconsiderable size”. He had lost £61,000 at one casino between 2005 and 2011 and £55,000 at another and about £12,000 in betting shops.
He had described himself as a professional gambler and denied in court that he had any debts, saying he earned around £50,000 a year from the hobby – mostly playing at Great Yarmouth casinos.
But when his finances were pored over by fraud investigators in the wake of the fire, they found that his income from the business did not support his outgoings. The firm was also said to be struggling with creditors chasing for payment.
Justin Hindry was a man who contributed to his own downfall in more ways than one.
Aylsham Bathroom and Kitchen Centre was fitted with an alarm at the time of the fire which started just before 5.30pm on June 27, 2012.
Yet during their investigation, police found that it had been turned off and then back on again shortly before the fire took hold.
Officers also established that there were only a small number of keyholders who knew the code to deactivate the alarm to the business which, according to experts, appeared to have no fault.
Hindry had claimed he had left work to travel to his father’s house in Reepham at the time the blaze broke out at the Burgh Road business.
However during the trial the jury heard how mobile phone tracking technology had thrown this alibi into question – putting him in the area of his firm at the time he said he had left work to travel to his father’s house.
It also emerged that Hindry had been spotted at his business shortly before the fire by an acquaintance of his, who was driving home at the time.
Giving evidence Robert Brown, director of Anglia Kitchens and Bedrooms, which is based at Hellesdon Park industrial estate, said he saw Hindry at the premises as he made his way home to Aylsham.
Mr Brown, who knew of Hindry and had seen him about 12 times over the years, said he left work just before 5pm.
He said that he saw Hindry “locking the gates” at Aylsham Bathroom and Kitchen Centre.
When asked what time this was, Mr Brown said, according to the clock in his vehicle, it was 5.23pm.
The jury heard that Mr Brown discovered there had been a fire at the centre just minutes after getting home.
He said: “It was about 5.40pm. My wife’s friend said someone had taken a photo and put it on Facebook.”
The sighting placed Hindry at the business after the alarm was set and deactivated and prior to it being reset once the fire had started.
After being found guilty of the two crimes at a trial earlier this year, Hindry was yesterday sentenced by Judge Katharine Moore, who described the offences as “really serious matters”.
Jailing Hindry, she added: “In my judgment, whatever the precise financial circumstances of the business at the time and whatever your own circumstances you planned this offence carefully.
“You waited until you believed that employees had left and you sneaked back inside and started the fire.”
The judge said the cost of Hindry’s actions were significant both in terms of the number of resources dispatched to deal with the blaze and the effect on the loyal employees who lost their jobs.
Earlier in the hearing Peter Gair, prosecuting, described it as a “serious arson” and “significant fire” which resulted in “a significant number of resources”.
Mr Gair said it was a business which “whether failing or not employed nine people who were made redundant as a result of the fire”.
Nick Cotter, mitigating, said Hindry, 42, of Manor Farm Close, Drayton, was a man of previous good character who had led an “unblemished life thus far”.
Mr Cotter said after the fire Hindry himself took from his “own pocket” to pay wages in an effort to “mitigate the loss to others”.
He said this was not a man who “cut off everyone else just to gain for himself”.
While the sentence punishes Hindry, Mr Cotter said it also punished his family, including his wife, sisters, father and three children. Mr Cotter said the damage to his character was perhaps as much a punishment as the custodial sentence.
At an earlier hearing the jury at Norwich Crown Court returned the verdicts after more than eight hours of deliberations.
Det Sgt Darren Reade, who led the investigation, welcomed the sentencing. He said: “Justin Hindry thought to con emergency services, detectives and his insurance company by setting fire to his struggling business to make money out of the claim. He also deceived his own staff, many of whom had supported him throughout the investigation. His complete disregard for the law and the danger it placed others in is shocking and his conviction will serve as a warning to others who are considering making money in this way.”
Hindry, who was cleared of an arson attack on a holiday caravan in Great Yarmouth, and making a fraudulent insurance claim for the caravan, was emotionless as his sentence was passed down.