Arsonist Thomas Ashcroft jailed for fires at Medway Maritime and Kent and Canterbury Hospitals to cover up petty thefts
by Paul Hooper
A heartless firebug who put the lives of hospital patients at
risk to cover up his petty thieving has today been jailed for
Drifter Thomas Ashcroft, 35, targeted SEVEN hospitals, hotels
and cafes all over England to start fires.
Two of the attacks were at Medway Maritime and the Kent and
Canterbury Hospitals - which he carried out to cause a distraction
- and forced cancer patients receiving treatment to evacuate.
While staff were busy tackling the emergencies, "evil" Ashcroft
(pictured right) helped himself to cash from nearby rooms.
Canterbury Crown Court heard how at the Kent and Canterbury
hospital he caused more than £70,000 of damage - but escaped with
just four fivers and some change.
The spate of arson attacks and burglaries started within days
of Ashcroft being released from prison for a similar
Branding Ashcroft "evil", Judge James O'Mahony jailed him for
eight years today with a four-year extended licence.
He told Ashcroft: "Your conduct was selfish and wicked. At
Kent and Canterbury, the eyebrow raising aspect is you stole four
five pound notes, but put at risk cancer patients who had to
evacuated along with 300 people.
"You are as dangerous as it gets - this was cold-blooded
"You are as dangerous as it gets - this was cold-blooded calculation which could have had devastating results..." – Judge James O'Mahony
have had devastating results.
"Mercifully it didn't. You couldn't care less for others because
you thought through these attacks with care. This was pre-meditated
Ashcroft, who has no fixed address, admitted six offences of
arson recklessly endangering life, burglary and attempted burglary.
He asked for eight similar offences to be considered.
A psychiatrist who examined him said the drug addict had started
the fires "in cold blood" just to steal money to feed to feed his
£300-a-day heroin and cocaine habit.
Peter Forbes, defending, said: "It is accepted that fires are
unpredictable and that's the horror of them, but he did start the
fires close to fire detectors and sprinklers and his purpose was
cause an evacuation so he could steal paltry amounts."
But the judge said the fires had posed risks to patients and had
caused huge costs to taxpayers.
Arsonist Thomas Ashcroft
stalks hospital corridors before starting fires
DI Lee Whitehead, from the Kent and Essex Serious Crime
Directorate, said: "Ashcroft put the lives of hundreds of people in
danger to steal money to finance his drug habit.
"His actions were not only criminal, but entirely selfish and it
has cost thousands of pounds to rectify the damage he has
"To force cancer patients to abandon their treatment is nothing
short of sickening and Ashcroft should be ashamed for causing
stress and anxiety to those who are fighting serious illness.
"It is pure testament to the staff at the various establishments
targeted and the prompt reactions of the fire service that nobody
was hurt, seriously injured or killed."
Fire damage at the Kent
and Canterbury Hospital caused by Thomas Ashcroft
Martin Yale, prosecuting, told how Ashcroft - who was
raised in care homes - struck on August 29 at the 600-bed Medway
Maritime Hospital, in Gillingham, which is a former Victorian
workhouse and has timber floors.
At the time of the incident, there were 1,500 members of staff
working as Ashcroft sneaked inside and started a fire in a store
cupboard on the second-floor Keats ward.
Jessica Scott, who was part of the hospital's fire control team,
was alerted at 3.45pm and called the fire brigade.
Fire officers took the decision to evacuate Dickens ward, which
is used for admissions and discharges, and one patient was moved
from the clinical area for 40 minutes.
Mr Yale said because of the fire engines, a patient
transport ambulance was unable to leave until the all-clear was
He added: "The estimated cost to repair the damage is between
£10,000 to £15,000. The windows that needed to be replaced in the
stairwell were Georgian-style and bespoke.
"The hospital also had to pay staff overtime for the clean up
Medway Maritime Hospital
was evacuated on August 29, the day before (below) a fire at the
Kent and Canterbury Hospital
Three days later, Ashcroft targeted the Kent and Canterbury
Hospital where he started a fire in a room used by the
Mr Yale added: "At the time of the fire, five wards were
occupied where there were 125 patients and approximately 100
nursing staff. In total 300 patients, staff and visitors had to be
"It was almost an hour before the ground and first floors were
made safe, thereby delaying treatment for cancer patients."
It was only later staff realised that money from a cash register
in the restaurant had been rifled – and less than £25 taken.
The following day, Ashcroft attempted to burgle the Boating Pool
in Ramsgate's Royal Esplanade using a knife to break into arcade
machines. He later called police and gave himself up.
Ashcroft has previously made 65 court appearances for 150
offences, mainly thefts.
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