Drunk set fire to church residence while priest slept inside

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A DRUNKEN man set fire to a church presbytery risking the life of the priest inside.

Connor Holmes pushed salt bins against the front door of St Joseph’s, Murton, and set fire to them “for a laugh”, Durham Crown Court heard.

Holmes ran from the scene after the fire caught hold.

“He later told police he didn’t think to call the fire brigade,” said Shaun Dryden, prosecuting. “Fortunately, it appears the fire burned itself out without setting fire to the building.

“The resident priest, Fr Richmond, was in the presbytery when the fire was set just before 10pm.

“He went to bed unawares, but when he came down in the morning to collect his milk from the doorstep, he noticed the glass in the front door was cracked.”

The court heard there were scorch marks on the carpet inside the door, and both salt bins outside the door were destroyed.

Mr Dryden added: “There was also some damage to woodwork and masonry, making up a total repair bill of £3,311.

“Holmes was linked to the scene by some empty cans of lager which had been discarded in the churchyard and on which his fingerprints were found.

“Another man was arrested and charged, but proceedings against him were dropped at an earlier stage.”

Holmes, 19, of Warnbrook Avenue, Murton, admitted arson being reckless as to whether life was endangered on November 8 last year.

He has previous cautions for burglary.

Stephen Constantine, defending, said in mitigation: “Mr Holmes was walking around drunk and foolishly lit this fire and left the scene.

“He tells me it wasn’t obvious the door was to someone’s home, and he is now remorseful for what happened.

“He is a young man from a stable and settled background who is hopeful of finding work.”

The Recorder, Mr John Aitken, sentenced Holmes to 12 months in prison, suspended for 12 months, and a three-month night time curfew.

Holmes must do 150 hours of community work and pay £250 compensation.

The Recorder told him: “It was only chance that nothing really serious came of what you did.

“You have done nothing like this before, and there is nothing in the reports about you which suggests you will be so stupid as to do it again.”

Holmes was ordered to pay a victim surcharge of £100.

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