A middle-aged man who developed a fascination with fire carried out a spate of arson attacks – and then hung around to watch the fire brigade tackle the blazes he had caused.
Paul Giles targeted wheelie bins in the Coundon and Radford areas of Coventry – always striking during the night prior to collection day after householders had put their bins out.
And as well as the bins themselves, the intense blazes he started destroyed a woman’s car and caused fire and smoke damage to a house, a judge at Warwick Crown Court was told.
But Giles, 41, who was living in the Coundon area at the time, escaped being jailed after pleading guilty to six charges of arson and one of arson being reckless whether life was endangered.
Instead he was sentenced to two years in prison suspended for two years, with a rehabilitation activity, and was ordered to do 150 hours of unpaid work.
Below: Watch the moment the car went up in flames in Banks Road
What did Giles do?
Prosecutor Simon Rippon said the first attack took place in the early hours of June 23 in Redesdale Avenue, Coundon – “an area of Coventry where all these offences were committed, close to the defendant’s home address”.
He set fire to three bins which had been put outside ready for collection later that morning, destroying the bins and causing damage to the pavement.
The same night Giles set light to a bin in Banks Road, Radford, which spread to self-employed beautician Shelly Jones’s white BMW, turning it into a fireball.
Miss Jones said in a statement that the incident had scared her and her daughter who believed they were targeted.
The same night Giles started two other bin fires, one of which set a tree alight in the garden of a house in Browett Road.
Mr Rippon said the most serious offence took place two nights later in the early hours of June 25 when Giles set light to a bin outside a house in Lavender Avenue.
The house was being renovated at the time, and the fire spread to timber propped up against the wall, leading to extensive fire and smoke damage inside the house.
Giles had started that blaze being reckless whether the life of householder Frank Slevin would be endangered – although fortunately he was not at home at the time.
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Then on June 30, by which time the attention of the police had been drawn to the spate of random fire-setting, Giles set light to two more bins in the area.
Aware the attacks always took place on the night before a bin collection, officers were already in the area when a bin was set on fire on the corner of Rowington Avenue and Dovecote Close.
Giles was at the scene, watching the blaze, and ran as the police arrived, but was found hiding nearby and arrested.
He explained he had started by setting fire to patches of grass and had moved on to starting the bin fires, “responding to an urge to set the fires”, and would then stand and watch them.
He said he had tried to put out the fire next to the BMW, and had burned his sleeve doing so, and felt bad over what he had been doing but could not control the urge, added Mr Rippon.
Giles had ‘his own troubles’
Justin Jarmola, defending, said the offences attracted some notoriety, but that he hoped the victims could understand Giles was someone “with his own troubles”, and that Miss Jones could explain to her daughter that they were not being targeted.
Mr Jarmola said Giles, who had no previous convictions, had been found to suffer from “an autistic spectrum disorder which was exacerbated by the isolation of the lockdown and the loss of his job”.
“It is a rather sad case, and it is a rather sad individual who appears before you, full of remorse,” added Mr Jarmola, urging the judge to pass a suspended sentence.
Doing so, Judge Potter told Giles: “You have never been before any court before, yet you find yourself facing sentence for seven offences, one of them a particularly serious offence.
“They were all committed over the course of just over a week in June when the country was wrestling with the pandemic and a degree of instability that was introduced into everyone’s lives.
“You went out and, in order to distract yourself from your own problems, began to set fire to the bins of other people.”
Of Miss Jones’s daughter’s fears, the judge said: “Both she and her mother thought they had been targeted. They did not know it was a middle-aged man who sought a distraction from his own troubles.
“It is quite plain this had an impact on a number of people. It was profoundly unsettling for all of them at a time when the country was unsettled enough.
“But it is plain to me these offences are very much out of character and arose from a conjunction of difficulties in your life against a background of an undiagnosed autistic issue. I am just persuaded I can suspend the sentence.”
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