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Man who started massive fire in packed Homebase store in Aylesford has been jailed for 4 years for public protection
Benny Joe Dighton, 28 years old, formerly of Chelmar Road, Chatham, had previously pleaded guilty to attempted arson with intent to endanger life B&Q Maidstone, arson with intent to endanger life B&Q Larkfield, and arson with intent to destroy or damage property with intent to endanger life Homebase, Aylesford at a hearing on 9 July 2010.
On sentencing, his Honour Judge Gold said 'You pleaded guilty due to painstaking police work. It is drugs that have brought you to the situation you find yourself in today. These are serious matters. You do indeed present a significant risk to the public.'
The offences all occurred over the first bank holiday weekend in May, a time traditionally popular for shoppers to visit home improvement stores.
On Saturday 1 May at 12:42pm, Kent Fire Rescue Services were called to the Homebase store on the Quarry Wood Industrial Estate in Aylesford after a fire broke out. At the height of the fire, around 90 firefighters, 17 fire engines and a number of support vehicles were at the scene. The fire destroyed the building and KFRS remained at the scene for 42 hours tackling the blaze.
Just over an hour later at around 1.56pm on 1 May,and approximately two miles up the road from Homebase, members of staff at the B&Q store on London Road in Larkfield safely extinguished a fire in the lighting section of the store which had been caused by someone setting packaging alight.
On Monday 3 May at 2pm, members of staff at the B&Q store on Barker Road in Maidstone were alerted to a customer behaving suspiciously. On further inspection, they found the preparation of a fire in a wood aisle which had been covered with methylated spirits. The fire had not been started yet and members of staff immediately reported the incident to police.
CCTV footage obtained from the store clearly showed Benny Dighton there at the time of the incident. Dighton was arrested later that afternoon and further investigation work revealed CCTV from the Aylesford and Larkfield area which put Dighton in the vicinity of both Homebase and B&Q at the time of the fires.
Detective Inspector Ian Rogerson, who led the investigation said:
'This was one of the busiest weekends of the year for home improvement shopping so it is a miracle that no-one was seriously injured or killed in these arsons. The damage that did occur, plus the disruption to shoppers and the stores themselves was significant, so I am pleased that the courts have recognised the danger Dighton presents to the public and he will no longer be at liberty to do anything like this for some considerable time to come.
'I would also like to thank the public for the help they provided to the investigation and to praise the shop staff whose vigilance ensured that the shops were evacuated safely and that no-one was hurt in these arsons.'
Kent Fire and Rescue Service has welcomed today's sentencing of Benny Dighton. Group Manager John Robertson, one of the incident commanders on the day, said:
'Anyone who was there can vouch for the fact that this was a ferocious fire which demanded the use of crews and equipment from all over the county for a prolonged period. This incident had the potential to be a real risk to life as well as property however, thanks to the Homebase staff who quickly and efficiently evacuated the building, no one was hurt and, due to the skill and tireless efforts of those fighting the fire, damage was mostly limited to the store itself.'
He added: 'We thank our partners - including Kent Police and the local authority - for working alongside us during that incident. Today marks the end of that process and, we believe, sends out the message that arson, on whatever scale, is an extremely serious offence and will ultimately be dealt with by the judicial system.'