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Teenager sets fire to home in Sussex Road, Maidstone

A teenager who set fire to the home of a pensioner, leaving him homeless, has been locked up for two years.

The 15-year-old torched bedding at the house in Sussex Road in Maidstone and then claimed it happened by accident after he lit a cigarette.

But a fire investigator concluded the blaze, which caused over £55,000 worth of damage, had been started deliberately.

The fire caused £55,000 of damage
The fire caused £55,000 of damage

Victim Robin Verkely, 71, said in a statement: “The fire has left me homeless and destitute. I can’t get my head around the enormity of it. I have lost everything.”

Maidstone Crown Court heard he was a few doors away at his fiancee Elizabeth

Stephenson’s house just before 11pm on July 2 last year when he learnt his home was ablaze.

Prosecutor Kieran Brand said it was “a substantial fire” which completely destroyed the first floor front bedroom and caused extensive heat, smoke and water damage to the rest of the rented property.

Owner Stephen Coomber said loss adjusters had put the cost of repair in the region of £55,000.

Mr Brand said when the teenager was arrested nearby soon afterwards, three lighters were found in his room.

He gave a prepared statement in which he said he had gone out at about 10pm to get some fresh air after playing on his XBox for up to four hours.

The teenager, who cannot be identified, went to Mr Verkely’s house managed to get in.

Flashback... forensic investigation teams at the scene of the fire
Flashback... forensic investigation teams at the scene of the fire

He went upstairs and smoked a cigarette. He claimed the burning part of the cigarette fell onto the duvet and top cover of the bed when he banged his elbow on the door frame.

He added that the bedding began to smoulder and despite his efforts to put it out it got worse. He said he left because he was frightened people would think he did it deliberately.

The teenager went to another house and reported the fire.

But the investigator found it was started deliberately with a naked flame to the bed and that it could not have happened in the way the defendant described.

When interviewed again, he said he could not be expected to remember what happened as it was so long ago. He maintained it was an accident, but admitted arson.

Keith Middleton, defending, said the boy, now 16, and his two siblings were abandoned by his mother when he was four and they all went into a care home.

He later went to live with his father but ended up in foster care. He admitted having anger problems.

Judge Adele Williams
Judge Adele Williams

“He has done well,” said Mr Middleton. “He has completed an online course on fire safety. He feels very bad, particularly as Mr Verkely was so kind to him and generous.

“He has been challenged by everybody but maintains his stance. It may be in his ineptitude he pushed down on the pillow several times. It may be that caused an influx of oxygen and fuelled the fire.”

Judge Adele Williams told the teenager: “There is no doubt you have suffered a very disrupted childhood and adolescence, and encountered a great many problems.

“This is a very serious offence. I have considered very carefully whether it is possible to deal with it in a way other than custody. I have concluded it is not.”

The judged added: “Robin Verkely befriended you. You referred to him as a mentor. The effect on him has been devastating.

“He was renting that house, which he has lost. He has also lost his possessions and clothes. Your explanation does not accord with the fire officer’s report and conclusion.”

Passing a two-year detention and training order, Judge Williams said a psychiatric report concluded there was no mental illness which required intervention by detention in hospital

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