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Teenager spared jail for causing £210,000 of damage in Earlham church hall fire

PUBLISHED: 06:30 29 July 2015 | UPDATED: 08:44 29 July 2015

The devastated church hall at St Anne, Earlham that was set on fire. Insurance representative surveying the damage.Photo: Steve Adams

The devastated church hall at St Anne, Earlham that was set on fire. Insurance representative surveying the damage.Photo: Steve Adams

A teenage arsonist who set fire to a Norwich church hall, causing £210,000 of damage, has been spared a custodial sentence.

Fire fighters at the scene of the fire which has devastated the church hall at St Anne Earlham in Colman Road. Picture: Denise BradleyFire fighters at the scene of the fire which has devastated the church hall at St Anne Earlham in Colman Road. Picture: Denise Bradley

The community building at St Anne Church, in Earlham, was destroyed in February last year and has been closed for extensive repair work ever since. Norwich Youth Court’s presiding magistrate Vincent Marcantonio told the 16-year-old from west Norwich: “This offence is very serious” but said his previous good character, vulnerability and supportive family had stopped him receiving a custodial sentence.

The teenager appeared for sentencing yesterday after he had been found guilty of arson at an earlier hearing.

A church warden spoke of her heartbreak over the blaze and told how community groups have been forced to find another place to meet while fundraising campaigns had been launched to top up insurer funds.

The windows were blown out by the fire, while tables, chairs, toys, books and art equipment were among contents destroyed.

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 court previously heard how a witness saw the 16-year-old, who cannot be named for legal reasons, playing with a lighter and setting fire to grass earlier in the day before the blaze.

Two boys were also seen outside the church hall, on the corner of The Avenues and Colman Road, breaking in and leaving together with smoke following behind them, which fitted the description of the 16-year-old and a 14-year-old.

At a previous hearing, the younger boy denied arson and was found not guilty.

The 16-year-old youth maintained he had not been inside the church hall, and had only seen his younger friend go inside.

Shaun Harvey, from the Norwich Youth Offending Team, told the three magistrates before they delivered their sentence: “This isn’t a prolific young man. He committed one offence and probably the most serious he will do in his life. He doesn’t come with great risk to the wider public.”

The community effort to help get the building back to normal overwhelmed many at the church.

Church warden Christine Moreton, 74, of Corie Road, said she expected the hall to re-open in September after extensive repair work.

She said the insurer had covered the fire damage, but a £10,000 loan from the Diocese of Norwich and fundraising efforts were also needed to upgrade certain areas of the building.

“It was all quite heart heartbreaking at the time,” she said. “But we have had to move on. We have had to raise our won money and get a loan, but we are on the way.”

For the charge of arson and an additional count of theft from a city-centre shop, the teenager was given a youth rehabilitation order lasting 24 months and ordered to pay £315 in costs.

There was no compensation charge ordered.

Mitigating, Jonathan Goodman said the teenager was “very vulnerable” and suffered from ADHD. He added he was of “good character”.

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