Pair who caused £250,000 church damage are jailed

| February 13, 2010

TWO cousins have been jailed for setting fire to a church, causing £250,000 worth of damage.
Ashley and Ben Mills had snuck in to abuse solvents.

But after stealing £2 from a collection plate they then set fire to a pile of robes.

The blaze spread and it took 40 firefighters to save the 130-year-old St James' Church in Clanfield, on December 1, 2007.

The vestry and the roof were destroyed, while the altar and chancel were blackened by the smoke leaving Canon Gill Hill and her congregation devastated.

It was 18 months before the church finally reopened.

Canon Hill said: 'It was utterly devastating to stand there and see your church building on fire. There were many people in tears.
'It would have been nice if they had been involved in the repairs and made to face up to what they did.'

Homeless Ashley Mills had denied having anything to do with the arson attack.

But he changed his plea to guilty and also admitted burglary after cousin Ben agreed to give evidence against him.

Ashley was jailed for three-and-a-half years, while Ben, who admitted arson, was sentenced to 18 months in prison.

Ashley Mills' defence solicitor Charles Thomas said the decision to start the blaze 'was spontaneous' and that it was Ben Mills, who is currently serving a two-year prison sentence for burglary and common assault, who had first started the fire.

But David Jenkins, defending 19-year-old Ben Mills, of Marjoram Crescent, Cowplain blamed the older cousin.

'At the time when this happened this young man had been abusing alcohol and drugs and on this particular occasion had been sniffing lighter fuel,' he said.

'Surely his older cousin, five years his senior, had some responsibility for his younger cousin then aged 17.'

Addressing Ben Mills at Portsmouth Crown Court yesterday, Judge John Dixon said: 'You are a young man and you are instrumental in lighting a fire which caused terrible damage to a church.

'Everybody has choices in life. The choice you made just over two years ago was a very, very bad choice. It was terribly distressing for those who go to the church for whom the church is a very special place.'

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Category: Church Security

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