Man Pleads Guilty Over Costume Fire

A Hampshire man set fire to a student dressed as a sheep in a pub as a joke, a court was told.

Jason Whatley, 38, pleaded guilty to arson at Leeds Crown Court after he set fire to 19-year-old student Stuart Mitchell at the Headingley Taps pub in Leeds last October.

Mr Mitchell spent nearly a month in hospital after his costume, which was believed to have been made from black tights and close-fitting tops with cotton wool balls attached, was engulfed in flames during the night out. During the brief hearing Whatley, dressed in a grey suit, white shirt and black tie, spoke only to confirm his name and to enter his plea.

The Recorder of Leeds, Simon Jackson QC, told Whatley he would return to court for sentencing but he could not say what that sentence would be. He said he was giving "no indication of what the ultimate outcome will be.''

Prosecutor Richard Gioserano said Whatley, of Faroes Close, Fareham, believed at the time his actions were just a prank. Mr Gioserano said: "The Crown accepts that, believe it or not, the defendant thought in his state of mind at the time, that this was a joke.''

Whatley was granted conditional bail to return to Leeds Crown Court for sentencing on May 18.

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