Ipswich: Man jailed for causing gas explosion - and police officers commended for bravery
12:30 25 April 2014
A “dangerous and unpredictable” man who caused a gas explosion at a two-storey block of flats in Felixstowe has been jailed for four years.
Occupants of Lancaster House in The Walk had to be evacuated after Arthur Cree barricaded himself into his flat and attacked a gas meter in his hall with a claw hammer and set light to the gas with a burning cloth, Ipswich Crown Court heard.
Sergeant Trevor Smith, who was trying to negotiate with Cree through the letter box, heard a hissing noise and smelled gas and as his colleagues Pc Steven Crouch and Pc Jonathan Firman attempted to force open the front door a massive burst of flames came through the letter box, said Richard Potts, prosecuting.
The officers could see a “huge fire” in the flat and after smashing down the door, which had been barricaded with a sideboard, they discovered that Cree, who had taken cannabis and was swigging cider from a two litre bottle, and a friend had barricaded themselves in a bedroom.
As firemen tried to put out the flames, the officers smashed open the bedroom door. “The room was full of fumes and it was hard for them to breathe as they didn’t have the luxury of breathing apparatus,” said Mr Potts.
Cree, who was standing behind the door and had burns to his head and hand, refused to leave the room and was pulled out by Pc Crouch while the other man made his own way out.
“Meanwhile notwithstanding the flames coming from the gas pipes, Sgt Smith went to the cupboard in the hallway where the meter was and turned the gas off at source to stop further risk of fire and to allow the fire brigade to complete their dousing efforts,” said Mr Potts.
As a result of the incident Pc Firman and Pc Crouch suffered singeing to their arms and the effects of breathing in fumes.
After his arrest Cree said he knew that taking alcohol and cannabis would affect his mental state and realised there would be an explosion when he lit a tea towel to ignite the gas.
The court heard that £5,740 of damage was caused by the fire.
Cree, 46, admitted arson being reckless whether lives would be endangered and possessing cannabis on August 5 last year.
He was jailed for four years with an extended licence period of three years during which he will have to maintain contact with his mental health team.
Sentencing him Judge Rupert Overbury described Cree as “dangerous and unpredictable” and said he had a duty to protect the public from the risk of serious harm by the commission of further offences by Cree.
“It was sheer good fortune there was no loss of life or serious injury as a result of what you did,” said the judge.
Judge Overbury presented Sgt Smith, Pc Crouch and Temporary Sgt Firman with commendations in recognition of their bravery.
He said police officers and other members of the emergency services were often put in dangerous situations where they were asked to risk severe personal injury to assist members of the public or prevent the commission of crime.
“We should never take such conduct for granted and where it demonstrates the highest degree of professionalism and commitment, it should be recognised by the community and the courts,” said the judge.
Joanne Eley, for Cree, said although he didn’t have a mental illness that required hospital treatment he did have issues that would affect his ability to cope in prison.
She said he had been experiencing feelings of paranoia prior to the offence and had contacted the local mental health team.
She said he denied intending to take his own life on the day of the offence and had not intended to cause so much damage
She said Cree was sorry for what he had done.