An arsonist warned “I’ll burn it to the f***ing ground” before setting alight his room in a home for vulnerable people using a lighter and deodorant.
Christopher Delooze, 38, set fire to the TV stand at his sheltered accommodation, after an afternoon drinking session, the Liverpool Echo reports.
He fled the building without telling anyone, but discovery of the blaze led to 26 residents and three staff members being evacuated.
The potentially lethal fire cost the Christian charity that runs the specialist facility more than £8,000, Liverpool Crown Court heard.
But when confronted outside after firefighters rushed to the scene, Delooze tried to blame another resident for igniting the flames.
Delooze was living at Haven House – set up to help homeless people and victims of domestic violence – in Lovely Lane, Bewsey, Warrington.
Prosecutor Kyra Badman said one female member of staff noticed Delooze was “intoxicated” on December 17 last year, which the court was told was not unusual for him.
Another member of staff told him to go to his room to “sleep the alcohol off” between 5pm and 7pm, but loud music was heard coming from his room.
The female staff member then saw smoke coming from his room when the fire alarm sounded, just after 10pm, and found his door handle “warm to touch”.
Ms Badman said she opened the door to the first floor room and described “the heat hitting her face and having to let go and jump back”.
Staff and residents were evacuated and everyone accounted for, save for Delooze and Luke Geraghty, who had been seen going into Delooze’s room with him.
The woman said the pair then appeared on the driveway, shortly after 10.12pm, but she couldn’t recall if this was before or after firefighters searched the room.
Ms Badman said: “He blamed Mr Geraghty for putting a lighter to the edge of the TV. Mr Geraghty said Mr Delooze started the fire with a can of deodorant.”
CCTV showed the two men going upstairs to the room and Delooze could be heard to say words to the effect of: “I will blow the f***ing place up.”
Mr Geraghty responded with something inaudible then “play with fire” and Delooze replied: “No, I will f***ing burn it to the ground.”
The court was told that the pair went in the room at 10.01pm and left at 10.08pm but neither informed any other residents or staff about the blaze.
The fire had started to burn through floorboards in Delooze’s room, damaged furniture, a TV and Xbox, fractured a window and melted an extractor fan.
Ms Badman said the charity’s staff had to work overtime voluntarily to cover the aftermath of the fire, which also caused “deep unrest” for other vulnerable residents.
She said all of the occupants had to be rehomed that night in a hotel and one resident had a “breakdown”, which caused a separate incident that required police attendance.
The total cost of repairs to Delooze’s room, the lost rental fees from the 16 weeks his room could not be used and putting residents up in the hotel was £8,098
He denied arson being reckless as to whether life was endangered and was set to stand trial in May, only to plead guilty before it was relisted in September, due to coronavirus.
Delooze was said to have seven previous convictions for 12 offences an offence of arson going back to November 2018, when he set fire to a bin in the bathroom of his flat at different accommodation, in what the court heard was a “strikingly similar” offence.
Mitigating, his defence lawyer Carmel Wilde said a psychiatric report outlined how Delooze suffered from “attachment difficulties” as a child and both of his parents were alcoholics.
She said he told a doctor: “I wish I had been fostered – I did not feel loved.”
Ms Wilde said Delooze was bullied and socially isolated at school, suffered with learning difficulties, complained he had been “mistreated”, self-harmed and “always had feelings of helplessness, worthlessness and voices telling him he is thick”.
She said: “Perhaps these feelings built up and resulted in outbursts of this type of criminal behaviour.”
The lawyer said Delooze developed alcohol dependency, had problems with housing and expressed the desire that he wished “to be normal” and to have a family and job, and that the happiest time in his life was when he worked voluntarily on a farm.
She said the previous fire was a “cry for help”, he was remorseful, and this latest blaze came after the impact of his aunt’s death and him complaining about care at the home, with Delooze now realising that he needed therapy.
Judge Robert Trevor Jones said Delooze endangered the lives of other residents – some of whom may have been asleep – staff and firefighters.
He said Delooze had obviously been “drinking heavily” and due to a combination of that and a “grievance” with the accommodation, became “angry”.
Judge Trevor Jones accepted Delooze had a personality disorder but said a doctor found that was not connected to his offending, which was “directly linked to excess alcohol consumption”.
He said he believed Delooze was dangerous but would not pass an extended sentence given the length of the seven-year term he had decided to impose.
Judge Trevor Jones said: “There was, in my judgement, a high risk of very serious physical or psychological harm here, had that fire ran out of control.”
Speaking after the case, Detective Constable Rob Thorpe, who led the investigation on behalf of Warrington Local Policing Unit, said: “I am pleased that Christopher Delooze is behind bars facing the consequences of his actions.
“He has a previous conviction for arson and on the night of Tuesday, December 17 he deliberately set fire to his room at sheltered accommodation whilst under the influence of alcohol and then fled without raising the alarm.
Greater Manchester court cases
“There were 29 other people inside the building at the time.
“The fire caused thousands of pounds worth of damage to the room and forced the residents to be moved to alternative accommodation, but thankfully no-one was injured.
“The consequences of this incident could have been far worse.
“Delooze was captured on CCTV footage threatening to burn the building ‘to the ground’ shortly before the fire was set.
“He was also captured fleeing his room around the time that the fire was started.
“Yet Delooze refused to accept responsibility for his actions until the 11th hour, instead attempting to pin the blame on another resident.
“The strength of the evidence we gathered against Delooze ultimately led to him having little choice than to admit being the arsonist and I hope that this case deters others from committing similar offences.”
David Keane, police and crime commissioner for Cheshire, added: “Fire spreads quickly and can put lives as well as properties in danger.
“Thankfully no one was injured as a result of this incident and I would like to thank the officers involved in this investigation for securing the level of evidence required to establish the identity of the arsonist and bring him to justice.”