AN ARSONIST who started a fire in a Croydon department store during last year’s English riots – causing a fire which destroyed the building and damaged several others – has been sentenced to 11.5 years in jail.
Gordon Thompson, 34, had stolen a laptop from the House of Reeves department store before setting fire to a sofa inside a shopfront window.
The fire later spread to the rest of the store, a five-generation-old family-run business, completely destroying it. The intensity of the blaze was so fierce that buildings on the other side of the street also caught fire.
The Guardian reports that the Old Bailey was told how Thompson was caught on CCTV starting the blaze, having asked another rioter for the use of his cigarette lighter.
He then boasted to a passerby: “It was me. I did that. I burned Reeves corner.”
Thompson had pleaded guilty to the charges of arson, and to three counts of burglary for which he was given a concurrent eight-year sentence. He had earlier stolen alcohol from an Iceland supermarket, and had also stolen goods from a House of Fraser store.
The Financial Times said Thompson’s sentence was one of the most severe to have been handed down for the riots, and that around 1,000 people had now been jailed for their role in the events. It also said Thompson had 20 prior convictions.
Trevor Reeves, the son of the shop owner and its finance director, said the company was still in discussions about whether it was financially worthwhile to restore the building, or whether it should be left abandoned.
“Times aren’t good out there – we’re a five generation company and we can’t afford to make a bad decision if we want it to go into a sixth,” he said afterwards. The shop has a second outlet which was not damaged in the riots.
BBC News reported that the fire caused £3 million of damage to the 144-year-old business, and that one woman living across the street from the outlet was forced to jump from her second-storey window in order to escape the fire after it was blown across the street.