House blast trial - defence

The man accused of blowing up his wife's house probably did not set light to it, a fire investigator told a jury. Philip Reed, a fire and explosions investigator, said it was his opinion that Leighton Richards did not cause the fire.

The man accused of blowing up his wife's house probably did not set light to it, a fire investigator told a jury yesterday.

Philip Reed, a fire and explosions investigator, said it was his opinion that Leighton Richards, 37, did not cause the fire at Burgess Way in Brooke. The surveyor denies with arson and recklessly endangering the life of his next-door neighbour and others when the house exploded less than an hour after divorce papers were delivered to him.

But prosecutor Matthew McNiff said that Mr Reed - an expert witness called by the defence - had “got fundamentals wrong”, did not have enough experience and had looked for evidence to fit Richards' story. Meanwhile Mr Reed claims that the prosecution expert, forensic scientist Rod Stewart, produced a report that was “breathtaking” “dumbfounding” and “astonishing”.

Norwich Crown Court heard that Italian Sabrina Motta was divorcing her husband, now of Hibbert Road, Walthamstow, on the grounds of unreasonable behaviour. She said she became worn down by his violence and that she finally split up with him because she was “scared to death”. She said: “I felt I couldn't have a family with him because I was afraid he would become jealous of the baby or something. He always wanted 100 per cent of me.”

Tyrone Belger, defending, said that although Richards planned to set the house on fire on June 22 last year, he did not actually light it. He said: “We are told he had poured petrol over the premises. And the fire started through an electrical fault or a spark, although he had intended to ignite the petrol shortly afterwards.”

Mr Reed said that Mr Stewart's investigation could have missed vital evidence because he used a digger to clear debris from the exploded house, and that the petrol could have been ignited by a kitchen appliance. He said: “The kitchen is renowned to be the most hazardous room in the house for fires. Appliances develop faults.”

Most Read

Mr McNiff said: “You say you cannot prove it wasn't the oven, and you cannot prove it wasn't him. But you say it could have been the oven but you believe it wasn't him... You have looked at what Mr Richards said and you have said: 'What evidence can I find to back it up?'” Mr Reed replied: “No.”

Mr Stewart said: “I have considered appliances [as the cause of fire] but in my experience of most fires involving petrol it is either a match or a taper that is thrown in. You are talking about a very low chance of something failing in this house and igniting the petrol which the defendant just happened to have poured there.”

The trial continues.