Arsonist ‘desperate’ for counselling

Sympathy for a Woodbury Salterton arsonist’s personal problems has spared him from being sent to jail.

Peter Barnett, 23, of New Way, Woodbury Salterton, who earlier admitted one count of simple arson and a second count of reckless arson – potentially endangering the lives of other – was last Friday given a community order and supervision order, both to run for three years, at Exeter Crown Court.

Judge Graham Cottle told the court the Crown viewed the case as ‘sad and unusual’, and said jailing Barnett was inappropriate.

He said the court was sympathetic to Barnett’s problems but that compassion would be removed if the defendant refused to take responsibility for his actions and failed to comply with help on offer.

Judge Cottle said: “He is responsible to make it work because if he doesn’t, and is obstructive, all sympathy will melt away.

“At the moment he enjoys the sympathy involved in this case but that will dissipate if he does not concede with the court order.

“It’s up to him to move that forward. It’s up to him to ensure he plays his part.” The judge said Barnett was in ‘significant denial’ of his offending, adding his sentence was passed on the basis the fires were deliberate.

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Judge Cottle said: “The defendant was denying any culpability. He said it was an accident. I will have to deal with him on the basis it was a deliberate act.”

The court heard Barnett, previously of Rolle Street, Exmouth, had been connected with 10 separate incidents of fire, spanning over several years.

The father-of-one earlier denied eight of ten charges of arson.

Barnett told police in an interview how in 2004 stress had caused him to start a fire at his parent’s home in Nelson Drive, Exmouth.

The court heard how the defendant had set fire to coats hanging in the porch, setting fire to an internal door.

“I decided to light the fire to see to see if it would make anybody notice me,” he told police.

Some five years later, in 2009, the fire brigade was called in the early hours of the morning to Barnett’s home in Honiton, where he was living with his wife and young child, to put out a fire in the living room.

Recalling the incident to the police in November 2010 the defendant said his family was away when a hobby lamp set fire to newspapers.

Prosecutor Richard Crabb said: “In other words, he was saying it was an accident.”

Stephen Mejzner, defending Barnett, said the defendant was ‘effectively a good character’ who was ‘desperate’ for help with his problems.

He said: “He’s desperate for counselling, as is his partner. They want to move their family situation forward.

“At the moment it’s very difficult. He’s only allowed to see his daughter in open spaces. He’s not allowed to babysit his brother’s children.”