UPDATED: Leyland school fire was ‘catastrophic’ says judge

St. Mary's High School, Leyland in flames
St. Mary's High School, Leyland in flames
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A teenager has been locked up over a fire which destroyed a school in Leyland.

The 16-year-old boy was sentenced to an 18 month detention and training order for the blaze at Leyland St Mary’s, at Preston Crown Court on Friday.

A second lad, 14, was given a two year youth rehabilitation order. Both had admitted arson.

Leyland St Mary’s Catholic Technology College was devastated by the fire which broke out on September 1 last year, two days before the school was due to start back for the Autumn term.

Fire crews from across Lancashire battled for more than eight hours to bring the fire under control.

At its height 20 fire engines and 120 fire fighters were at the scene as hundreds of onlookers took to the streets as the fire took hold.

Following the blaze pupils were unable to return to school for two weeks while a temporary school was set up at the former Ribbleton Hall High School, in Preston.

Five boys were initially charged but three were cleared of the allegations.

The 16-year-old, dressed in a grey shirt and navy tie, shook his head and looked at his family as he was given an 18 month detention and training order.

Judge Stuart Baker, sitting at Preston Crown Court, said: “In my view the case is so serious that, even taking into account mitigation, the only proper sentence of the court which would adequately punish him and provide him with rehabilitative elements is a detention and training order.”

In distressing scenes the youngster was heard banging the cell door after he was led away, as his mother broke down in the gallery.

Turning to the 14-year-old, who wore his school uniform, the judge said he recognised there were different issues in his case and imposed a two year youth rehabilitation order, including a 20 hour attendance centre requirement and curfew.

Speaking of the “burden” it had caused, he said: “The bare facts of this case are shocking. St Mary’s School was catastrophically damaged by fire.

“It was by any stretch of the imagination, a major incident. Arrangements had to be made for the school’s 700 pupils to receive their education elsewhere.”

“The defendants trepassed in the school grounds in the summer holidays, made a den and, as they now admit, set fire to pieces of polythene in the den.

“Any member of public would expect the court will pass a sentence which reflects the seriousness of the crime.”

However he did not grant an application made by the Evening Post to identifying the young arsonists, saying: “The test is whether it is in the public interest and I accept the submission the words in the public interest are not necessarily synonymous with what the public find interesting.

“I don’t think there’s a universally right or wrong answer. If this had been a case with elements of clear malice and deliberate fire raising to burn down the school, or revenge, I think I would have found it would be in the public interest to know who set about doing that. But this is not that case - those grossly aggravating features are absent. The case is based on recklessness committed by two boys who were 13 and 15 at the time.

“I’m sure others take a different view but that is the decision I have made.””

- For more see Saturday’s paper.