A man started a massive blaze at a book store in the centre of Maidstone as he made his way home from a nearby gambling shop in the early hours, a court heard.
Adam Stajer “flicked a light” at rubbish left outside The Works in Week Street, starting the fire that was to cause £5 million of damage to buildings, it was alleged.
Prosecutor Ryan Richter said the 21-year-old Slovakian’s reason for starting the blaze was completely unknown but suggested it could have been out of “sheer devilment” or boredom.
Mr Richter told a jury at Maidstone Crown Court the flames quickly spread through surrounding shops and unoccupied shops, but fortunately nobody was killed or injured.
He showed CCTV of “flickering light” about an hour before the fire took hold, which a defence expert will describe as an explosion.
But Mr Richter said it was the prosecution expert’s view that it played no part in the fire starting just after 2am on Monday, June 8.
Stajer had collected his wages at the Shamrat Indian restaurant where he worked in Lower Stone Street on the Sunday afternoon and then spent some time in Cashino Gaming in Week Street.
“Just before 2am, he left and walked along Week Street,” said Mr Richter. “As his journey took him along that street he came to the discount book store The Works.”
Staff had left a number of cardboard boxes outside ready for collection by binmen the next morning.
“It is the prosecution case, as he passed those boxes of rubbish, Mr Stajer for whatever reason - boredom, sheer devilment - flicked a light at those boxes of rubbish for a few seconds.
“That set them on fire. He walked off. The fire very quickly developed, taking hold of the rubbish. In a matter of minutes it spread through the seals of the shop into the shop itself.
“You can pretty well imagine what is going to happen to fire in a bookshop full of paper. It burns very quickly.”
Firefighters were on the scene soon afterwards but could not prevent destruction of the bookshop and serious damage to other stores and flats.
“A total of £5 million worth of damage was caused,” said Mr Richter. “Naturally, life was endangered by what occurred. Thankfully, no one was killed or seriously injured.
“The prosecution say it was this gentleman who caused the fire because of the strands of the prosecution case.”
Experts were of the view the fire was not started accidentally. A review of council CCTV cameras showed that Stajer was the only person to be seen in the area of the book shop in the 20 minutes or so when the fire was started.
“It is how this fire started and who did it is going to be the focus of this trial,” said Mr Richter.
Stajer agreed he was in the area but claimed he only saw that the fire was alight inside The Works as he passed. He denied lighting it.
Mr Richter suggested there would be “many red herrings” put forward by the defence lawyers.
Stajer, of Lower Stone Street, Maidstone, denies arson with intent to endanger life and an alternative charge of arson being reckless as to whether life was endangered.
The trial continues.