A PASSENGER from Sunderland who sparked a major fire on a North Sea ferry while “so drunk he could barely stand” deserved his tough sentence, top judges ruled today.
Boden George Hughes, 27, caused £800,000 of damage aboard the King Seaways after starting a fire in his cabin in December 2013.
Setting fire to a crowded passenger ship is an especially grave form of arson - with potentially disastrous consequences.Mr Justice Coulson
Disaster struck after he dropped his cigarette lighter on a pile of clothes while smoking cannabis as the vessel sailed from North Shields to Amsterdam.
When crew members came to investigate he was truculent and “aggressive”, Mr Justice Coulson told London’s Appeal Court.
He was finally dumped in the ship’s cell, said the judge, but “not before he got into a fight with one of his own friends”.
Traumatised passengers - including weeping children - had to gather on the upper deck in readiness to abandon ship.
In all, 27 passengers needed treatment for smoke inhalation, the judge added.
Six of those on board - including a pregnant woman - had to be evacuated by helicopter.
Mr Justice Coulson, sitting with Lady Justice Macur and Judge Peter Collier, said Hughes and his pals had drunk a bottle of vodka and other booze before the ship sailed.
Hughes, of Fulwell Road, Sunderland, topped that up during the voyage during solitary visits to the bar.
“He was described by all and sundry as being so drunk he could barely stand”, his barrister, Chris Morrison, told the court.
Hughes was handed a total 11-year jail term in June last year after admitting reckless arson and affray.
That sentence also took account of an offence of conspiracy to steal relating to the theft of copper cable.
His case reached the Appeal Court today, where Mr Morrison argued his overall sentence was far too harsh.
But Mr Justice Coulson noted the panic caused by the blaze and rejected the appeal.
“Setting fire to a crowded passenger ship is an especially grave form of arson - with potentially disastrous consequences,” he said.
“A severe sentence was amply justified - there was nothing wrong with the sentence imposed here.”