A TROUBLED businessman who torched his own Blackpool laundry to make a £1m insurance claim has been jailed for more than five years.
Paul Morris, 44, boss of Cannon Linen, in Brinwell Road, Marton, hatched a sophisticated plan to incriminate a former employee by staging attacks on his own property then calling the police.
Morris wrecked employees’ cars with paint stripper and even staged a break-in at the premises while attempting to convince police former employee Andrew Smith was responsible.
Mr Smith had recently left the firm after a serious disagreement with a co-worker and Morris saw this public bust-up as a way of setting him up to take the blame for the major arson attack he was planning.
Ultimately, in July 2010, Morris sparked 28 separate fires inside Cannon Linen causing damage estimated at up to £1.5m to the commercial laundry and tried to blame Mr Smith.
But police say the fires were placed to cause maximum damage to the machinery and could only have been positioned by someone with expert knowledge and began a major investigation.
Preston Crown Court heard Morris had enjoyed an “enviable lifestyle” – living in a large detached house in Wrea Green, driving an Audi A4 and splashing out on sending his children to public school – but this was under threat because the business was struggling.
Morris, of Fox Lane Ends, Wrea Green, admitted charges of arson and attempting to pervert the course of justice but denied the insurance fraud.
However a jury found him guilty last year.
Sentencing Morris to a total of five years and four months Judge Pamela Badley said the plot to build up a body of incriminating material against Mr Smith had clearly been put in place well before the fire but added: “There was no hope that this plot would ever work.
“The evidence is you were struggling financially and that this was the reason for your actions was overwhelming.
“Andrew Smith was an ex-employee who had left the firm after some unpleasant scenes with one of his co-workers. You gave his name up to the police and put the blame on him.”
Det Sgt Paddy Dowling, lead officer in the case at Blackpool CID, said: “Following the sentence I am delighted it is now recognised Andrew Smith was a completely innocent man.
“During the summer of 2010 Paul Morris set out to use Mr Smith as part of a sophisticated plan which he built up over a period of months.
“He finally seized on the opportunity to put the blame for the fire on Andrew Smith and commenced the process which he hoped would make him more than £1 million in false insurance claims.”
Richard Howarth, defending, said prior to the arson Morris had been a man of good character and a good father and husband.
He added after the arrest Morris underwent psychiatric treatment at the Priory clinic and that depression may have been a factor in his decision to torch his own business.
He said: “He was very confused, and has a warped sense of propriety at this time in his life.”
n Paul Morris’ brother, John, 46, from South Shore, was charged with fraud and perverting the course of justice. He was acquitted following a trial last year.