England

Drug addict jailed over Kent hospital arson thefts

Thomas Ashcroft seen on hospital CCTV footage
Image caption Ashcroft started fires in hospitals in order to create a diversion and steal from tills

A homeless drug addict who started fires at a Sheffield hotel and two Kent hospitals so he could rifle through tills has been jailed for eight years.

Thomas Ashcroft, 35, who previously admitted arson and burglary, was sentenced at Canterbury Crown Court.

The court has heard he had a £250-a-day crack cocaine and heroin addiction.

Ashcroft targeted the Hilton in Sheffield on 15 July, Medway Maritime Hospital on 29 August and the Kent and Canterbury Hospital on 30 August.

When Ashcroft admitted arson being reckless as to whether life was endangered and burglary at the hospital and two hotels in October, he also asked for eight further offences to be taken into consideration.

Ashcroft has appeared in court 65 times for 150 offences, mainly theft-related.

'Wracked by addiction'

Prosecuting, Martin Yale said Ashcroft burgled Rotherham hospital in South Yorkshire on 14 July, weeks after being released from jail. He also set fires at the Hilton in Sheffield and Manchester's Midland Hotel, the court heard.

Image caption The judge said there was "real danger" to people in the hospitals

He was arrested for shoplifting in Blackburn, Lancashire, and returned to custody for four weeks.

In Brighton, he started fires at the Royal Albion Hotel, Sealife Centre and the Dome, and then Gatwick Airport in West Sussex.

He set fires at Crawley Hospital and the two Kent hospitals before surrendering himself to police with the situation "spiralling out of control".

In mitigation, defence counsel Peter Forbes said Ashcroft had a "fundamental personality disorder".

He said Ashcroft targeted premises which had smoke detectors and sprinklers and did not use petrol.

"This man plainly has been wracked by drug addiction for many years," he said.

Mr Forbes said Ashcroft's descent into drugs followed the death of his parents when he was young, leading him to be raised in care.

Judge James O'Mahony accused Ashcroft of "sheer pre-meditated wickedness".

He said the real gravity of Ashcroft's crimes was that he set fire to three hospitals, in order to steal "trifling amounts of money".

"You gave no thought or understanding to other people in there," he added.

The judge said there was "real danger" to people in the premises Ashcroft targeted.

After the hearing, Det Insp Lee Whitehead said Ashcroft endangered the lives of hundreds of people.

He said: "To force cancer patients to abandon their treatment is nothing short of sickening."

Kent Fire and Rescue Service (KFRS) director of service delivery Steve Griffiths said: "Any deliberate act of fire setting is dangerous and KFRS hopes the jail sentence given today will deter others from this potentially deadly act."

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