Oxfordshire Arsonist Sectioned Under Mental Health Act

29 May 2015, 18:12 | Updated: 29 May 2015, 18:45

An arsonist from Oxfordshire who torched four buildings and caused almost £20 million of damage during a psychotic episode has been sectioned at a mental health unit.

Farmer Andrew Main, 47, set fire to South Oxfordshire District Council's office, a thatched cottage, an undertaker's and his own home earlier this year.

Nearly 200 firefighters were required to contain the fires in the early hours of January 15.

Prosecutor Michael Roques told Oxford Crown Court it was ``miraculous'' no one was killed.

Two psychiatric assessments concluded that Main was ``acutely unwell'' when he started the fires and, following a guilty plea to four counts of arson, he was detained under section 37 of the Mental Health Act.

Sentencing, Judge Ian Pringle said: ``It is clear at the time in question, in December and January of this year, that you had a deeply psychotic relapse of bi-polar disorder.

``We will never know why you picked on the targets you did, but we will always know that the consequences were utterly, utterly devastating.''

Major damage was caused to around 85% of the council building by the fire, which continued to burn into Saturday morning.

As a result, firefighters from four neighbouring counties were called to assist, leaving the rest of the area ``significantly under-resourced'', Mr Roques said.

Hundreds of council employees were forced to relocate and substantial amounts of computer data was lost.

Several council departments, including planning services, were left completely gutted -- with an estimated #20 million of damage.

Judge Pringle said: ``350 council employees being relocated was catastrophic for them and all the county council.''

The first fire was started at around 3am, when Main's 80-year-old neighbour Jean Gladstone had the thatched roof of her cottage at Quakers Corner in Rokemarsh set alight.

She managed to escape unharmed, but only thanks to her modern smoke detectors waking her, the court heard.

Within minutes, both Howard Chadwick Funeral Service in nearby Crowmarsh Gifford and the council offices were engulfed in flames.

Mr Chadwick had previously arranged the funeral of Main's mother, to whom the defence said he was ``very much devoted'', and her death was cited as the start of his psychological decline.

All four fires were started using gas canisters which were ignited by matches.

The court heard Main, of Rokemarsh near Wallingford, intended to commit suicide following the arson spree, but instead presented himself to police at around 9.45am, saying: ``I think you're looking for me''.

Having successfully trained as a sheep shearer, he had started to suffer from psychotic episodes in 2006.

His mother's death in December 2013 affected him badly and his neighbour Mrs Gladstone noticed he looked ``exhausted'' around the one year anniversary of her death.

After starting the fires, Main told police he had planned to kill himself with a chainsaw in a nearby field, but had inadvertently dropped it in a brook.

He admitted starting the four fires and will be detained indefinitely under the Mental Health Act with with a section 41 restriction which means he will only be released with the permission of the Home Secretary.

Detective Inspector Louise Tompkins, of Thames Valley Police, said: ``Main's guilty pleas have saved a number of witnesses the anguish of having to give evidence at court.

``I hope his convictions bring some sort of closure to all those affected by the incident.

``The hospital order reflects how unwell Mr Main was at the time he committed the offences.''