'Spiteful' arsonist jailed for £1.8 million blaze after row with pregnant girlfriend
PUBLISHED: 13:21 09 May 2019 | UPDATED: 14:22 09 May 2019
A jealous and controlling boyfriend who started a "devastating" £1.8 million blaze after his pregnant girlfriend walked out on him has been jailed for nine years.
Stephen Wilson started the fire out of "pure malice and pure spite" directed at his girlfriend, judge John Devaux said at Ipswich Crown Court on May 9.
The 32-year-old, of Poppy Close, Loddon, had denied arson being reckless as to whether life would be endangered, assaulting his partner and driving a car taken without consent, but was found guilty after a trial last month.
He had earlier admitted two offences of breaching a restraining order banning him from contacting his partner.
The court heard that, following a row, she walked away from the timber-framed flat above DC Patrick Newsagents in Market Place, Halesworth, that she shared with Wilson, and he threatened to set fire to the property if she didn't go back.
Andrew Jackson, prosecuting, described the relationship between the pair as "turbulent" and said that in 2017 a court had banned him from contacting her or going to Halesworth.
Despite the order, the couple got back together but the arguments continued and, after drinking on June 11, Wilson accused her of deleting text messages on her phone before he could read them. She was eight months pregnant at the time.
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He had given her "a backhander" to the face and she left the flat with friends. As she walked away Wilson was heard threatening to start a fire at the flat if she didn't go back.
Mr Jackson said: "It wasn't an idle threat and within minutes he made good his threat."
The fire had spread quickly with "devastating" consequences to neighbouring properties including DC Patrick Newsagents.
The court heard the cost of rebuilding the newsagents and adjoining premises, as well as the loss of stock, computers and business interruption, was estimated at more than £1.8 million.
The Market Place in Halesworth had been closed the day after the fire and scaffolding at the damaged premises had caused ongoing inconvenience to shoppers and businesses.
Wilson's former partner and her children had been left homeless as a result of the fire and she had lost all her possessions.
Ronan McCann, mitigating, described the arson as an "impulsive, reckless and entirely regrettable" decision by his client.
He said the fire had spread quickly and Wilson, who now accepted starting the fire, hadn't anticipated the scale of the damage.
In addition to jailing Wilson, judge Devaux made a restraining order banning him from contacting his partner for nine years.