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Luke French admits arson after fires at Medway Maritime Hospital

By Paul Hooper

A serial arsonist torched bins near hospital oxygen tanks, a mobile mortuary and two MRI scanners worth £1 million.

Pyromaniac Luke French is now facing the prospect of receiving an indeterminate jail sentence.

The 29-year-old, with a history of starting fires dating back to childhood, set packaging and a waste bin alight at Medway Maritime Hospital in two separate incidents 15 minutes apart in September last year.

Luke French
Luke French

It was only the quick actions of staff who spotted flames that averted serious consequences, Maidstone Crown Court heard.

Prosecutor Gabby Henty said the fire happened near two large MRI scanners each worth £500,000, while plastic was set alight next to bin cages and in close proximity to an overflow mobile mortuary.

“But perhaps most seriously, also where the mobile oxygen containers were and which connect to the main oxygen supply to the hospital,” she added.

French, from Peregrine Drive, was caught on CCTV starting the fires and then lurking with an accomplice in the hospital entrance, either to watch the flames or to avoid detection.

Earlier that evening, the pair also set two bins alight in nearby Chatham which had to be extinguished by the fire brigade.

French pleaded guilty to two offences of arson and one of arson being reckless as to whether life would be endangered.

Judge Adele Williams adjourned sentence, telling him: “The events turned out not to be very serious but the potential consequences are very serious - at a hospital, near oxygen tanks, near MRI scanners.”

"The events turned out not to be very serious but the potential consequences are very serious - at a hospital, near oxygen tanks" - judge Adele Williams

The court heard French ran off when challenged by a hospital worker.

About 15 minutes later another member of staff saw rubbish inside a large bin on fire.

It was in front of doors to the scanners and he put it out with a fire extinguisher before calling police.

When arrested French said he did not know one of the arson locations was a morgue.

The court heard he has nine previous convictions for 12 offences, including three of reckless arson.

These were committed at The Chequers shopping centre in Maidstone, as well as a branch of McDonald's and a Sainsbury's store in the town, over two hours in April 2010.

Each time French would watch the blazes from a short distance away as the fire brigade put them out.

Medway Martime Hospital. Picture: Google
Medway Martime Hospital. Picture: Google

He was subsequently jailed for four years, with an extended licence period of eight years.

Miss Henty said French was just 14 when he set fire to a pram placed outside a door to a house where he had 'some sort of grudge' against the occupant.

He also set fire to his prison cell in 2015, having been recalled on licence and jailed for burglary three years earlier.

Other previous convictions include criminal damage and attempted robbery.

Paul Hogben, defending, said French was "immature, child-like and a compulsive fire-setter".

The court was told his accomplice that evening was a man with learning difficulties who was charged in relation to one of the bin fires in Chatham.

He was convicted and handed a community order.

To read more of our in depth coverage of all of the major trials coming out of crown and magistrates' courts across the county, click here

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