Girl, 15, who started church blaze is jailed

| August 19, 2010

A TEENAGE girl who started a fire which caused £600,000 of damage to the parish church at Thursby near Carlisle has been jailed after flouting a court order which would have allowed her to keep her freedom.

The girl, who is 15 and lives in Carlisle, was given a 12-month referral order in June which meant that she was allowed to go on living in the community while receiving help to stay out of future trouble.

But Judge Peter Hughes QC warned her then that if she stepped out of line she would be sent to custody.

And at Carlisle Crown Court yesterday he learned that, by failing to attend her initial appointment with staff of the Youth Offending Team, she had disobeyed his order almost as soon as it had started.

He told her he had no alternative now but to impose a 12-month detention and training order instead.

The girl’s solicitor, Mike Reay, told the judge he had arrived at court expecting to be asking the judge to give the “headstrong” teenager a second chance to prove she could obey the order.

But shortly before the hearing started, he said, she had told him not to make such an application because she wanted to be sent to detention.

Judge Hughes said that made no difference to his decision because he had already decided to deprive her of her liberty.

He said that unless he imposed a sentence of “significant duration” there was little chance of her benefiting from it.

“We have come to the end of the road,” he said. “We have got to hope that she will come through what is a very difficult period of her life and come out better.”

At the earlier hearing the court heard how the fire started after the girl set light to a bucket of leaves in the church boiler room at the 160-year-old St Andrew’s Church in an attempt to keep warm.

The fire spread to insulating material on the pipes, then to cans of paint being stored nearby, and then to the vestry.

The girl – and the older boyfriend who was with her – fled in panic, too scared of the consequences to raise the alarm.

And by the time the blaze was discovered, it had spread through the church, destroying the organ and altar and causing smoke damage to the rest of the building, including the stained glass windows.

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