A 15-year-old arsonist who sparked a massive blaze at Blackpool’s Illuminations depot – causing more than £100,000 of damage – has been locked up for a year.
Flames engulfed the Rigby Road compound after the young firebug poured fuel inside a caravan at the site.
The teenager – who has racked up 33 previous convictions for criminal damage and dishonesty – is said to have text messaged a friend bragging about throwing a petrol bomb at the caravan while also mentioning the fire on Facebook.
Illuminations, including the Gynn Gardens’ fountains, Fantasy Island displays and Postman Pat’s van, were destroyed in the fire.
The blaze had a big impact on the quality of last year’s Lights’ show – dubbed by many unimpressed visitors as the resort’s worst ever.
Richard Ryan, Illuminations boss at Blackpool Council, said: “The fire was not just an attack on the Illuminations, it was an attack on the visitors, many of who are children, who come to see them.
“It was quite a traumatic experience.
“Firemen risked their lives to put the fire out.
“These things have massive consequences.
“For us, it delayed us getting some of the tableaux up by two or three weeks, which damaged us.
“If you count up the time and cost to the taxpayer, it’s frightening.”
More than 30 firefighters were drafted in to tackle the blaze at 10.30pm on June 13 last year.
The heat of the blaze was so severe steel girders buckled and brought a huge section of concrete roof crashing to the ground. The depot was eventually demolished.
Unique fibreglass moulds used to create the Illuminations were destroyed and there were concerns the famous Postman Pat had also met his end.
But the popular figure was pulled from the wreckage and following extensive restoration work, he made a return to the Promenade display.
Rachel Faux, prosecuting at Preston Crown Court, said four youths were seen running from the vicinity of the fire at the time.
When CCTV was checked, the defendant and others were identified.
Text messages found on the defendant’s phone showed him bragging to a friend about throwing a petrol bomb at a caravan.
A message to a friend on Facebook also implicated the teenager.
The court heard the teen admitted he was present at the time, but denied responsibility for the fire.
The other people arrested were never charged.
The 15-year-old, who cannot be named for legal reasons but is from central Blackpool, denied a charge of arson.
However, he was found guilty following a trial and was handed a 12-month detention yesterday.
Joe Hart, defending the teenager, said accelerants had been poured inside the caravan, rather than a petrol bomb being thrown.
He said: “The defendant was in the company of others, all four of who were identified, including him. None of the other individuals identified were charged.
“Nobody was injured in the course of this incident. It would appear there was no suggestion anyone was put at risk, either from the emergency services, or any member of the public.
“He is a young man with very real learning difficulties. He is very easily led.
“He finds it very hard to appreciate the consequences of things that he has done. Whatever was intended, he didn’t intend to cause some £100,000 worth of damage.
“It was a foolish act committed without real regard to the consequences, in the company of others.”
However, Recorder Simon Driver said there had been an element of planning as fuel had been taken to the scene and then used to start the fire.
He told the boy: “I am satisfied there isn’t any evidence you have an abnormal interest in fire.
“You have a bad record. The offence is so serious that only a custodial sentence is appropriate.
“This was a serious public incident and it requires a serious public sentence”.
Det Sgt Paddy Dowling, from Blackpool CID, said: “We are pleased this youth was convicted. Despite his protestations of innocence, there was a sizeable amount of compelling evidence that implicated him. His actions caused needless, widespread mayhem and destruction on the night.”