Exning school arsonist avoids being locked up

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A 17-year-old girl who started the fire which caused £300,000 to Exning Primary school has avoided being locked up.

The teenager, who had four previous convictions including two for causing

criminal damage. and who cannot be named for legal reasons, had been drinking

heavily when she ignited plastic cups in a storage shed before flames

spread to the main building at Exning Primary School, near Newmarket.

Firefighters battled to save the Victorian building in Oxford Street during

the early hours of September 4 last year but were unable to prevent

extensive damage being caused.

CCTV pictures showed the teenager and another girl entering the school

grounds and emerging shortly afterwards and looking back towards the

school as the blaze took hold before running off, prosecutor Laura Kenyon

told Ipswich Crown Court.

One classroom was gutted and other parts of the school affected by smoke

and water. Five thousand library books were destroyed together with

IT equipment, children’s work and other material.

Ms Kenyon said that neighbours reported seeing flames leaping as high as

the roof before the blaze was brought under control.

Fire investigators established that the blaze had started in a storage shed

adjacent to the main building and was deliberate.

Ms Kenyon said both girls seen on CCTV attended hospital the following

day after self-harming incidents and the 17 year old had said that the fire

had been her fault and had been her “biggest mistake.”

The court heard that a cigarette light had been used to ignite plastic cups

being stored in the shed, which was destroyed in the outbreak.

Ms Kenyon said no evidence was being offered against the second girl after

the 17 year old accepted full responsibility for what happened.

Head teacher James Clark said in a statement that the impact of the fire

on the 200-pupil school had been “huge.”

“The fact that it was being treated as arson made us feel sick,” he said.

For some pupils, their first day at school had to be postponed, while the

parents of others had reported their children being unable to sleep and

having nightmares.

Mitigating, Joanne Eley, said the girl who had admitted a charge of arson,

suffered from mental health issues and had consumed a “significant” amount

of vodka.

“She tells me that if she had been sober she wouldn’t have done this.”

The girl had only “patchy” memories of what had taken place, said Miss Eley,

who told the court: “The plan that evening wasn’t, it seems, to go out and

start a fire. It was to go out and meet some older boys and get some cigarettes which is why she had the lighter with her.”

Since the incident the girl had made a serious attempt to end her own life

against a background of mental health issues and family problems, said

Miss Eley.

“She is a young lady who has a very fragile mental health and is seen regularly by the mental health services,” she told the court.

Sentencing her, Judge David Goodin told the girl: “I’m not going to send you

into custody today. In many ways you richly deserve it.”

He said he had been “narrowly persuaded” that the negative effects

of the girl being sent to a Young Offenders’ Institution would outweigh the

benefits.

“I hope you will, in your own best interests, wake up every morning and think ‘my goodness, I could be in prison today’,” he told her.

“Do that in your own interests because that might be a good way of deterring

you from anything like this again.”

The girl was made the subject of a three year youth rehabilitation order with

conditions to be under probation service supervision and complete 60 hours

of unpaid community work.

A 9pm to 7am curfew was also imposed on the girl for the next three months.

“You are at the last ditch,” Judge Goodin told her. “This is your last chance, a realopportunity to turn your life around - do it.”