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29 August 2012, 17:03
An arsonist who burned down one of Dunstable’s best known landmarks has been jailed for seven and a half years.
Richard Waters, 43, of Western Way, Dunstable, was found guilty in June of burning down the Grade II listed Norman King pub in August 2011.
Following the sentencing of Richard Waters, Detective Chief Inspector Steve Vesztrocy told Heart: "This sentencing serves as a timely reminder that serious crime will not be tolerated in Bedfordshire and we will do everything that we can to find and prosecute those responsible.
Waters is a dangerous individual who caused misery to the owners of the pub and panic among the public who lived close by and had to be evacuated as a result of his actions."
DCI Vesztrocy added: "I want to pay particular tribute to the investigating officers who went through a painstaking and meticulous enquiry which involved studying hours of CCTV footage until they found the suspect. As soon as those images were released, we were given a name and it didn’t take too long for the truth to unfurl.
Thankfully, this sentence reflects the seriousness of the crime and I am pleased to see that Waters will not be able to cause fear or harm to the public for a long time."
Waters claimed to have no memory of starting the fire, and had no reason to do so. He had been drinking heavily and had taken cocaine.
Prosecutor Will Noble told Luton Crown Court that the loss of Dunstable's oldest building had caused 'considerable disquiet' to residents of the town. The building was in the process of being refurbished and was closed at the time. It had been due to reopen in Sept last year as a function room. No figure had been put on the loss.
Mr. Noble said the fire started just before midnight on August 9 last year and led to 50 people from neighbouring houses and the Old Palace Lodge hotel next door being evacuated. Fortunately the fire did not spread but the pub could not be saved. The manager was also not sleeping there that night He said images recovered from the cctv hard drive showed a man with shoulder length scruffy hair in a pony tail, sit down on the step at the front of the Norman King before rolling a cigarette and lighting it. The man struggled to get to his feet and crouched down again.
The fire damage was so intense that fire investigators were unable to carry out a full investigation, but the evidence is consistent with the fire being set using a naked flames to the underside of the thatch above the front door.
Mr Noble said "We say the man in the cctv deliberately set fire to the Norman King and was reckless as to whether the fire which followed endangered the lives of others. We may never know what his motive for doing so was."
Miss Madeleine Wolfe, defending said Waters continues to deny the offence. "He has said he has absolutely no reason to commit the offence but accepts that does not lessen the impact of such a crime. He is very sorry that this has happened to such a nice old building." She continued: "He is not hiding behind a convenient mental blackout, it is a recognised medical condition for those addicted to alcohol and other substances."
Judge Stuart Bridge told Waters: "This was deliberate and premeditated causing the loss of a building of real historical importance that was held in great affection by the people of Dunstable. it cannot be replaced and has caused significant financial loss. "You struck in the middle of the night and the risk of death or serious injury was very real."