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Sunday, 31 August 2014

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Cumbria shed fireball blast almost killed neighbours

A man could have killed his elderly neighbours after getting drunk and blowing up his garden shed in the middle of the night.

Richard Milligan  photo
Richard Milligan

Richard Milligan went into his garden at 3.40am on September 24 with a blowtorch, intending to burn a doll’s house because it reminded him of his ex-partner.

When the doll’s house wouldn’t burn satisfactorily the 36-year-old “devoted family man” threw the burning blowtorch into the shed in frustration, not realising all the old paint tins stored in there would explode in a fireball. By the time his terrified neighbours – woken by the bang – looked out, flames were reaching the height of their bedroom windows and the heat from the fire could be felt inside their house.

The glass in their upstairs window was cracked by the heat, the frames were scorched and a television cable melted.

Walter Wilson, the 74-year-old who lived in the house in Elterwater Avenue, Workington, with his wife Ann and son David, later told police he was frightened for his family’s safety and haunted by the thought of what might have happened if he had not been woken up by the explosion.

Another neighbour Sarah McMullen, who ran to the house to warn the Wilsons of what was going on, said she was “very shocked and petrified” to think what might have happened.

Fire officers later reported that “the prompt actions of neighbours prevented it from escalating and causing more severe damage and possible injury to people”.

And at Carlisle Crown Court yesterday Judge Paul Batty QC told Milligan: “What you did was incredibly irresponsible. The effect on that sleeping family next door was very traumatic indeed. They could so easily have perished.”

The court heard that after seeing his shed explode in front of him Milligan ran off in panic. He was found hiding behind a bush by a police dog handler who just happened to be nearby.

Repairs to the Wilsons’ house cost more than £2,000, while Milligan’s home – owned by a housing association – cost £12,000 to put right.

Milligan pleaded guilty to a charge of arson, being reckless as to whether other people’s lives were endangered. His defence barrister Frank Nance said Milligan was “mortally terrified” of going to prison.

He said Milligan was a man who “sits at home all by himself with his cans”, getting drunk and landing in trouble. He said there were many issues in his life, including depression, with which he was “temperamentally unable to cope”.

“He tries to cope with them by sitting at home drinking,” he said.

Milligan was sent to prison for two years.

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