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Norwich teenager found guilty of arson which destroyed Earlham church hall

PUBLISHED: 11:21 08 May 2015 | UPDATED: 11:21 08 May 2015

The devastated church hall at St Anne, Earlham that was set on fire. Photo: Steve Adams

The devastated church hall at St Anne, Earlham that was set on fire. Photo: Steve Adams

A 16-year-old has been found guilty of arson, after a court heard how the teenager started a fire which destroyed a church hall.

The devastated church hall at St Anne, Earlham that was set on fire. Photo: Steve AdamsThe devastated church hall at St Anne, Earlham that was set on fire. Photo: Steve Adams

The west Norwich youth had denied the arson which caused more than £200,000 of damage to the church hall of St Anne, Earlham, on February 17 last year, saying he had only been outside the hall and had not gone inside.

But Norwich Youth Court heard yesterday how a witness saw two boys outside the church hall, as well as another witness who saw them breaking in and leaving together with smoke following behind them, which fitted the description of him and his co-accused, a 14-year-old who had also denied arson but was found not guilty.

Dan Taylor, prosecuting, said the pair, who cannot be named because they are under 18, had spent the afternoon with a female friend, who had seen the 16-year-old playing with a lighter and setting fire to a piece of grass.

The three then went to the church hall grounds, on the corner of The Avenues and Colman Road, before heading around to the back of the church car park, where the elder boy had climbed on top of a small building.

Fire fighters at the scene of the fire which devastated the church hall. Picture: Denise BradleyFire fighters at the scene of the fire which devastated the church hall. Picture: Denise Bradley

Mr Taylor said the trio then went to nearby Earlham Library, before the two boys left to return to the church hall.

He said both defendants had changed their stories several times over the course of two police interviews, and then finally in court, with the 14-year-old only admitting he was at the hall after glass from one of the broken windows was found in his backpack and he was picked by a witness in an identity 
parade.

The 14-year-old admitted breaking into the church hall and told the court he was “shocked” and “surprised” when he saw his companion had started a fire in a cupboard, and he had only intended to steal money, which is why he ran off in a panic.

The 16-year-old, who was not picked out by witnesses in an identity parade, maintained he had not been inside the church hall, and had only seen his younger friend go inside.

The devastated church hall at St Anne, Earlham that was set on fire. Photo: Steve AdamsThe devastated church hall at St Anne, Earlham that was set on fire. Photo: Steve Adams

Presiding magistrate Vincent Marcantonio told the 14-year-old the prosecution had proved a joint enterprise to cause damage and to enter the building, but not to enter with a prior plan to set it alight, and so the court found him not guilty of the offence of arson.

However, he told the 16-year-old he had been seen setting fire to some grass earlier in the day and reliable witnesses had placed him at the scene, exiting the building.

He said the younger defendant’s evidence had been supported by witness statements and told the 16-year-old: “In your case we find the prosecution has not proven the joint intention to go in deliberately to set fire to the property as a joint enterprise, but we find the evidence of the prosecution has proven that you have caused the arson which destroyed the building.”

The case was adjourned to allow a pre-sentence report to be prepared, with the 16-year-old due to be sentenced at 3pm on June 23 at Norwich Youth Court.

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