Burning rags arsonist faces life sentence

police incident on cliff street
police incident on cliff street

A man is facing a possible life sentence after torching a guest house and two holiday cottages in Whitby while the occupants were inside.

Barry Carter, 45, pushed lit rags through the letterboxes of at least one of the properties, causing the people inside to flee for their lives and thousands of pounds’ worth of damage.

He initially denied the 
offences, but later pleaded guilty to three counts of arson with intent to endanger life and appeared for sentence at York Crown Court on Friday.

Prosecutor Louise Reevell said the fires happened at two holiday lets in Cliff Street and a guest house in Pier Lane in the early hours of April 26, over Goth weekend last year.

At one of the Cliff Street properties were five band members touring Whitby. A flaming piece of rag with a ‘Superman’ insignia had been pushed through the letterbox. It later transpired Carter had torn the cloth from his Superman pyjamas and doused it with fuel.

The musicians tried to beat away flames with a wet towel 
before firefighters arrived.

Three-quarters of an hour later, Carter – who had taken 20 diazepam tablets and later claimed to have no recollection of the incidents – targeted a second cottage in Cliff Street.

Owners Robert and Pamela Holmes, 75, found their ground floor clogged with smoke after being woken by a barking dog and were taken to hospital with serious trauma.

Carter had set fire to a wheelie bin which he propped against the back door. The blaze caused over £3,000 of damage.

Mr and Mrs Holmes were forced to vacate the property for 18 weeks and had to install a new kitchen, door, windows and electrics. The fire also 
destroyed the couple’s wedding and family photo albums.

Mr Holmes said: “I thought me and my wife were going to die. There was oily smoke everywhere. We’ve lost photos of our kids and grandkids, and photos of me when I was in the navy.”

A female guest at a Pier Lane terraced house was so badly traumatised she suffered sleepless nights, flashbacks and panic attacks. After his arrest, Carter, of nearby Haggersgate, made a chilling remark about a female police officer in the case against whom he had a particular grudge.

“He said that when he was released (from custody) he would rent a flat in Scarborough near the police station so he could watch for that officer and her partner, and look out for her car to find out where they lived,” said Ms Reevell.

Judge Rodney Jameson QC said it was impossible to sentence Carter on the day because of the seriousness of the offences and the fact that he would have to consider a life sentence.

He said he would sentence Carter at Leeds Crown Court within the next few weeks.