Arsonist who started fatal hotel fire after hiding extinguisher jailed

07 March 2019 by
Arsonist who started fatal hotel fire after hiding extinguisher jailed

An arsonist who started a fatal fire in an Aberystwyth hotel while "fuelled by drink and annoyed and frustrated" after an encounter with a woman has been jailed.

Damion Harris, 31, hid a fire extinguisher before setting light a cupboard of linen inside the Ty Belgrave House hotel at about 2am on 25 July 2018. The resulting blaze ripped through the hotel forcing guests woken by smoke to jump from balconies and climb to its roof to survive.

Fire safety officer Juozas Tunaitis, 48, who was staying at the hotel with three colleagues, failed to escape the blaze. His remains were found underneath the collapsed building two months later and were so badly damaged they were only identified through DNA.

The fire had spread upwards through the hotel, where 16 guests slept, and on to the neighbouring Belle Vue Royal hotel which contained another 54 guests, all of who were evacuated.

Harris was described as "wicked" by Judge Paul Thomas, who said he had deliberately started the fire at the height of the tourist season either through "stupidity" or "malice".

The father of two from Llanbadarn, Aberystwyth, was identified as the arsonist using CCTV. He was charged with the murder of Tunaitis, but pleaded guilty to manslaughter, arson and inflicting grievous bodily harm with intent as his trial was due to begin on Monday.

Swansea Crown Court heard the blaze had led to an estimated £5m in losses to the hotel and neighbouring properties in Marine Terrace.

Tunaitis' mother Kazimieros Tunaitienes, who said she was financially dependent on her son, told the court: "I have no idea how I will survive without him, or what strain I will suffer. I've lost a part of myself."

Her son had been seen at his second-floor window by guests who had already evacuated, but replied to calls for him to jump saying: "I'll find another way. I can't do it."

He was not seen again, and a post-mortem examination could not determine whether he died from smoke inhalation or directly from the fire.

Richard Simnett, 42, of Burton upon Trent, was on holiday with his partner and sons aged four and five, at the time of the blaze. The court heard that his family was forced to escape their attic room by climbing to the hotel's steep slate roof, which he fell from, suffering a number of serious injuries.

He landed on a metal rail which stopped him falling a further 12ft on to a concrete floor, but broke his arm and left him with a number of serious fractures and needing major surgery on his spine.

Nadine Radford QC, representing Harris, read a letter from him which said he was "very sorry" for the "pain and grief" he had caused.

Judge Thomas said Harris had never given a reason for his actions, but suggested it was a combination of drink and his frustration at an encounter with a girl after leaving a nightclub which led to him starting the blaze.

The judge said: "Fuelled by drink and annoyed and frustrated by your conversation with a young woman, you went into the hotel for malicious purposes. You simply did not care what happened to those who were in the hotel."

The judge said he believed Harris posed a significant risk to the public and handed him an extended sentence of 21 years.

Man admits starting fatal fire at Aberystwyth hotel>>

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