14-year-old destroyed a £3million block of flats leaving 100 people homeless by copying a school science lesson and building a home-made Bunsen Burner
A teenager caused £3million worth of damage by burning down a block of flats – after copying a science lesson at home and trying to make a Bunsen burner, a court heard.
The hapless 14-year-old claims he was attempting to put into practice what he had been taught in a chemistry class at school that day.
Teachers in Plymouth, Devon, had shown pupils how to make a laboratory Bunsen burner.
The lad went home and used an empty can of Monster energy drink and hair spray to recreate the correct dimensions.
He says he tried to follow what he’d learned in school by making a “constant flame, an inch high” which ‘got bigger when you squeezed it’.
But after leaving it burn for five seconds he put it on his bedside table, near some clothes, and told police he was convinced he had blown it out.
He then opened a window and sprayed air freshener to hide the smell before heading downstairs to the living room.
Half an hour later the smoke alarm went off and the boy’s mother, after finding the bedroom full of thick smoke, evacuated their home.
The fire ripped through the rest of the block of flats in Plymouth, Devon, on June 3 this year.
The building was gutted causing £3million worth of damage and more than 100 people had to be rehomed.
Despite claiming it was an accident he pleaded guilty to arson and told he faces a substantial custodial sentence.
Prosecuting, Gareth Warden, said that Plymouth Community Homes, who own the building, have estimated it will cost a minimum of £2m to replace the fire-gutted block.
But he told the court the full costs of the neighbours’ belongings had to be added taking it to a total outlay of £3million.
He said: “The full estimate was between £2.5m and #£worth of damage and some of those who lost all their possessions had no insurance whatsoever and are still living in bed and breakfast accommodation.
“Since the fire, none of the residents have been able to return to the building and some are still living in bed and breakfast accommodation.”
The boy, who cannot be named for legal reasons, spoke quietly as he pleaded guilty to one charge of arson with intent to endanger life at Plymouth Youth Court.
He sat quietly beside his mother as Mr Warden outlined the case.
Mr warden said: ”Fire crews had been called to the address at 5.10pm as smoke poured from the entrance.
“Initially, firefighters entered the maisonette using breathing apparatus, but were beaten back by the heat.
“The fire got into the roof space and it ripped through the block of 24 three-bedroomed maisonettes.”
Mr Warden said the housing association has said the block is “beyond repair and will have to be completely rebuilt”.
Fire investigators later discovered it started in the boy’s bedroom.
Mr Warden said: “The boy was quiet and withdrawn and obviously very upset about the incident taking place.”
The court was told the boy had no previous convictions, merely a caution for affray in 2014.
Magistrates told the boy that the level of damage – when compared to other similar cases – meant it carried a sentence “substantially more than two years” in a Young Offenders’ Institution.
He was granted unconditional bail and will be sentenced hearing at Plymouth Crown Court on October 23.