Willow Place fire in Corby: Three teenage boys found not guilty of arson

Willow Place fire. December 30, 2014. Sent in by Caroline Southworth NNL-150501-110521001
Willow Place fire. December 30, 2014. Sent in by Caroline Southworth NNL-150501-110521001

Three teenage boys who had been charged with arson over the Willow Place fire in Corby have been found not guilty.

The boys, who cannot be named for legal reasons, were acquitted of the charges at a youth court sitting at Corby Magistrates’ Court earlier today (Friday) after a two-day trial.

The damage caused by the fire in the Willow Place shopping centre in Corby, pictured the morning after the blaze NNL-141231-092938001

The damage caused by the fire in the Willow Place shopping centre in Corby, pictured the morning after the blaze NNL-141231-092938001

The fire tore through the car park of the Willow Place Shopping Centre on December 30, 2014, causing £1,075,000 worth of damage.

Yesterday, Wellingborough Magistrates’ Court heard how the three boys - referred to as child A, B and C - were seen on CCTV entering the undercroft of the car park at 5.46pm.

They were then seen running away from the scene with their hoods up at 6.07pm.

A minute later there was a significant indication of fire, which was well-developed by 6.12pm.

But while the boys, who were all 12 at the time, admitted to being at the scene, their accounts of what happened all differed.

Child A, now 14, said in a police interview that child B, now 13, started the fire.

Child C, now 14, also said that child B started the fire and that child A told him not to tell the police “or he would kill him”.

But child B said that they all had lighters and that it was child C who started the fire, before he tried to put it out with the contents of an Irn-Bru bottle.

The court heard from Northants Fire’s investigating officer Ian O’Donovan how the fire had started in a stack of plastic milk crate-style containers.

The fire rose and set netting alight, which dropped into a skip full of flammable materials and made the fire grow.

As the fire reached the ceiling it moved laterally until it reached a gap where it got into the building’s insulation, before the devastation ensued.

Mr O’Donovan said it was most likely that paper was used as an accelerant - which child B admitted was at the scene - as tests showed that the milk crates were very difficult to set alight.

The three youths - who the prosecution were aiming to prosecute under the joint enterprise ruling - declined to give evidence in court today.

Prosecuting, John McCann said the boys were fully aware of their actions.

He said: “When they left the boys were aware that the fire had started.

“Somebody decided to put their hoods up, why would they have done that?

“They should have realised that what happened would have run the risk of causing an awful lot of damage.

“We know that there is a blame game going on here and that none of them are taking responsibility.”

But Alistair Evans, for child B, said the blame game shouldn’t come as a surprise.

He said: “What we have here is each person blaming somebody else.

“Is that really a shock to anybody? You’ve got three boys who had never been in trouble with the police.”

Micaila Williams, for child A, said there was no evidence to convict her client.

She said: “None of the defendants are pointing the finger at child A.

“There is no evidence whatsoever that he was the fire starter.

“We heard in the police interview that he tried to put the fire out.”

Andy Hopkinson, for child C, said: “What the three boys have admitted is being there and nothing more.

“It still has to be proved beyond reasonable doubt that they acted together.”

After almost two hours of deliberating, chairman of the bench Janet Whitby reached a not guilty verdict for all three defendants - but warned them to use the incident as a lesson.

She said: “We are of the opinion that the boys acted as a joint enterprise but it was not reckless.

“They could not foresee the outcome that their actions would have.

“We hope you have learned from the experience about the dangers of what fire can cause.”