A jury was told a 39-year-old man accused of setting three fires is a 'nasty thug' but not an arsonist, jurors were told.
Defending barrister Robert Woodcock QC made the remark in his closing speech to the jury in the trial of Alan Smart.
Smart is alleged to have targeted rap singer David Baker in three arsons, setting fire to Mr Baker's car, and setting fire to two houses which prosecutors say Smart knew Baker lived in.
Mr Woodcock told the jury the case was about a drugs debt of £10,000, and Smart's role as an enforcer acting on behalf of a drugs dealer.
"Smart by his presence would be enough to get the money paid," said Mr Woodcock.
"All the signs around Sunderland of Alan Smart Security were fictitious but indicated his reputation.
"Even while he was in prison for a crime - not an arson - which he did commit, he was still being paid a £4,000 a month retainer by the drugs dealer.
"None of which makes Mr Smart an arsonist, but it does turn him into a nasty thug."
Smart declined to give evidence on his own behalf.
Judge Deborah Sherwin confirmed with Mr Woodcock that Smart had been advised the jury could draw any inference they saw fit from his decision not to give evidence.
In a note to the judge, the jury asked why Mr Baker and other parties named in the case had not given evidence.
Judge Sherwin said there were many reasons why a witness might or might not be called, but the jury panel should not speculate and should try the case on the evidence put before them.
In the dock with Smart is 54-year-old David Roberts.
He is accused of driving Smart to the most serious arson at a house in Princess Road in Seaham, and to have driven him to a Newcastle hotel afterwards.
"I have to mention Mr Roberts ," said Mr Woodcock.
"Is it likely that hardened criminals such as Alan Smart is alleged to be would trust a fat, rotund, silly Billy such as Mr Roberts to drive them?
"You might think they wouldn't trust him to get them there and drive them away to arrive in one piece, let alone at any speed."
Roberts gave evidence on his own behalf, telling the jury he knew some of the parties allegedly involved in the case.
Roberts said he had done driving errands, including picking up drugs money, but he had not taken any part in arson.
Caroline Goodwin QC, defending Roberts, told the jury: "When anyone is interviewed by police they have a choice to make no comment or answer questions.
"Mr Roberts told officers he had not been involved in any arson.
"We say on his behalf he is a rank amateur as a criminal.
"You have heard everything the criminal justice system knows about Mr Roberts.
"In all those convictions, there is none for arson or offences of violence.
"Given the number of times he's been caught for other offences, you may choose to accept his account that he is not an arsonist."
Smart, of Shrewsbury Crescent, Humbledon, Sunderland, denies arson on December 23 and 24, both 2011, and he denies arson with intent to endanger life on April 29, 2012.
Roberts, of Sorley Street, Millfield, Sunderland, denies arson with intent to endanger life on April 29, 2012.