Two teenagers admit starting school fire

Fire aftermath at Leyland St Mary's Catholic Technology College
Fire aftermath at Leyland St Mary's Catholic Technology College

Two boys have admitted starting a fire that caused severe damage to a Leyland high school.

The youngsters, aged 14 and 16, pleaded guilty to a charge of arson, following a fire at Leyland St Mary’s Catholic Technology College last September.

Fire swept through the Royal Avenue school just days before the new term was due to start, with work to refurbish the buildings expected to cost millions.

Not guilty verdicts were entered by the judge in relation to three other boys who had been charged with arson being reckless as to whether life was endangered, along with the other two.

The 14-year-old and 16-year-old boys, who cannot be named for legal reasons, appeared at Preston Crown Court yesterday.

Prosecutor Paul Dockery said: “While the school is set in a residential community with residential streets all around, it is in a sense an island in the grounds of the school.

“September 1, 2013 was the end of the school holidays and it was the week following that the pupils were to return, and the school to begin a new year.

“It seems the fire was lit at about quarter to four, and the first alarm call of smoke being seen was at three minutes past four.”

Mr Dockery said that the likelihood of danger to life was “remote”.

He said: “The five defendants, three had been there for some hours. The other two joined later, but in none of that time was there anybody else seen on the CCTV footage, or anybody such as a caretaker to tell them to get off the land or behave. So the likelihood of anybody having their life put in danger was indeed remote, fortunately.

“The two defendants who have pleaded their guilt to arson reflect what the crown believes to be the two young persons who started to play with fire.

“The other three, while present at all times, there is no hard evidence, certainly from any independent sources, that they were to be regarded as being involved in that fire setting. There is no evidence of encouragement or assistance.”

He said the decision to accept the pleas had been considered at a high level, with a detective chief inspector and the head of the CPS in Preston consulted.

Judge Stuart Baker adjourned the case until November 28, for reports to be prepared by the youth offending team.

The youngsters were granted conditional bail.