Sunderland Falklands veteran who sparked £1m Roker gas blast that killed pet cat is jailed for five years

A Falklands veteran who sparked a £1m gas explosion which tore through a row of Sunderland flats and put two people in hospital has been jailed for five years.

The blast on Whickham Street, in February, totally destroyed one property and substantially damaged several others, which may still need to be pulled down.

A total of 15 fire service vehicles and 40 crew attended the explosion, which has caused eight people to have to be rehoused and left many with just the clothes on their back.

One resident's pet cat was killed in the terrifying eruption.

Ian Lenaghan has been jailed for causing a gas blast in Roker.

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The court heard the 59-year-old electrician, who lived on Whickham Street, had wanted to take end his life after reflecting on the 40th anniversary of the Falklands conflict and concluded he had done "relatively little" with it since.

Mr Recorder Tom Moran told him: "Sadly, there are many ways of doing that but you chose a spectacularly reckless way to do it.

"The way you did it exposed other people to a great deal of danger as well."

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Morning after a gas explosion on Whickham Street, Roker.

Shocking pictures of the terrace, comprised of Tyneside Flats, a type of accommodation housing single storey apartments, show a roof totally blown off and piles of debris in the road.

Two people were taken to hospital and the road was evacuated and taped off aftewards.

Prosecutor Emma Dowling told the court George Rodham was the downstairs neighbour of Leneghan and had heard sounds coming from upstairs that day.

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Miss Dowling said: "He said this behaviour was not unusual for Mr Leneghan and he had to have the housing company out in the past to repair damage that had been caused by DIY work the defendant had carried out.

An aerial view of the devastation caused by the blast.

"He said on this particular afternoon he had been in town, returned home and was watching TV when he heard a 'whoosh' from upstairs and the buildingeffectively collapsed around him.

"He was forced to escape through a window as the front door was impassable.

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"He had two cats and one sadly died in the explosion."

The court heard Mr Rodham, who had lived in his home for 22 years and had no house insurance, "lost everything" in the blast.

Morning after a gas explosion on Whickham Street, Roker.

Another neighbour said she heard what sounded like a "bomb going off" and another said his property "shuddered".

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The court heard a total of eight residents have had to be rehoused and have lost precious belongings.

One of them owned their own home and the others were owned by Gentoo, who now have to consider whether the block should be rebuilt or demolished.

The court heard either way, the cost with exceed £1m.

Tony Cornberg, defending, said Leneghan suffered 80 per cent burns, was in hospital for seven weeks and has been left with 20 per cent lung capacity.

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Mr Cornberg added: "He went straight from hospital to prison.

Demolition work on the destroyed property after the explosion.

"He can't hold anything, not a pen or knife or fork. He is sitting in the prison estate finding himself eating with his hands."

After sentencing, Detective Sergeant Alan Whittle, of Northumbria Police, said: “I am pleased to have been able to put Ian Lenaghan before the courts and highlight the great danger he caused to others that day.

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“His reckless actions that afternoon could have so easily have resulted in a number of fatalities. In fact, it is sheer luck that nobody died or was seriously injured in that blast.

“The damage caused on this residential street was significant, at an estimated value of up to £1.4 million. It displaced people from their homes and came at a huge cost to everyone involved.

“I am pleased that effective justice has now been delivered for this offence and Lenaghan will now have time to think about his mindless actions in his prison cell.

“I would again like to extend my thanks to the community for their incredible cooperation and patience throughout, as well as HSE, Gentoo and our blue-light colleagues who played such an instrumental role in the hours and days after the blast.”

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The second man who was taken to hospital was later discharged.