Seaton arsonist who risked lives of 17 people jailed

PUBLISHED: 14:53 10 July 2019 | UPDATED: 12:04 11 July 2019

Firefighters at the scene of the Royal Clarence flats fire in Seaton. Picture Chris Carson

Firefighters at the scene of the Royal Clarence flats fire in Seaton. Picture Chris Carson

Archant

An arsonist has been jailed for risking the lives of 17 people by setting light to a block of flats where he was about to be evicted.

Firefighters at the scene of the Royal Clarence flats fire in Seaton. Picture Chris CarsonFirefighters at the scene of the Royal Clarence flats fire in Seaton. Picture Chris Carson

Connor Hallett told one resident 'I don't like living here' minutes before he lit a fire in his bedsit in the five-storey building above the Royal Clarence pub in Seaton.

The fire caused at least £310,000 damage and left all the 17 other residents homeless three weeks before Christmas. They all escaped unhurt but two needed treatment by paramedics for smoke inhalation.

Hallett, aged 22, had been drinking until the early hours and had crashed his car into a wall before walking home to the flats while covered in blood.

He hammered on the front door until a resident let him in and then went to his flat, where he started the fire on his bed at around 7.30am on December 2, last year.

Jailed: Seaton arsonist Connor Hallett. Picture: Devon and Cornwall PoliceJailed: Seaton arsonist Connor Hallett. Picture: Devon and Cornwall Police

Hallett left the building moments before the smoke alarm in his room set off the alarm in all the other flats and CCTV showed him wandering around Seaton for a minute or so before returning to the building.

He smashed the fire alarm bell in the hallway even though it was already sounding, and then roused some of the other residents.

Hallett was two times over the drink-drive limit when a blood sample was taken and tried to blame another youth for the fire by claiming he had been threatened the week before.

The fire caused massive disruption in Seaton at the time and the Royal Clarence pub and Boots shop downstairs were closed for three weeks with combined loss of business of £60,000.

The cost of repairs is £250,000 with more work still to be done. None of the residents has been able to return and some needed help from voluntary donations to find and furnish temporary accommodation.

Many lost irreplaceable personal valuables including family photographs and only one of the other residents was insured.

Hallett is a former junior angling champion who represented England in the Home International series in 2011 when he was 14.

He had been living in a first floor flat since February but had received two warnings from the managing agents because of complaints about noise and leaving fire doors open.

He was expecting to be evicted and had already made arrangements to stay with his family before he lit the fire.

Hallett, of Harbour Road, Seaton, admitted arson being reckless whether life was endangered and was jailed for five years, four months, by Judge Peter Johnson at Exeter Crown Court.

He has already been banned from driving for 41 months by magistrates after admitting drink driving and leaving the scene of an accident.

The judge told him: "I have no doubt you started this fire deliberately using one of the lighters found in your room. The comments you made shortly before show your drunken motive for doing so.

"There was a very great risk to life. All 17 residents lost their homes and irreplaceable personal belongings and the damage to the building was considerable. Three flats were essentially gutted.

"It is impossible to put a figure on the loss, disruption, distress and inconvenience you caused. People were put out of their homes suddenly that Sunday morning. Their lives were turned upside down.

"Despite the commendable benevolence of the local community, it was a frightening experience which will live with them for a very long time."

Rachel Drake, prosecuting, said Hallett had been drinking with friends at the Royal Clarence pub on the night before the fire and went on to play cards at one of their homes.

He got very drunk and emotional and was thrown out in the early hours. He crashed his Fiat Punto into a wall at around 5am and injured his hands and arms.

He returned home at around 7.20am, telling a neighbour who let him in that he didn't like living there. The fire started in the next 11 minutes while he was in his flat alone.

CCTV showed him leaving and coming back 90 seconds later to smash the fire alarm, although it was already sounding. He roused other residents and told one he had dropped a cigarette.

He later claimed to police that another man had threatened to kill him and burn his flat the week before.

Mary McCarthy, defending, said Hallett comes from a supportive family which runs an angling shop in Seaton. He was a talented angler who represented England at junior level.

He started suffering from mental health issues when he was 18 which led to him drinking too much. He was upset on the day of the fire by a family bereavement.

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