Tanker driver Hugh Billington jailed over bungalow crash

Hugh Billington
Image caption Billington left the Household Cavalry Regiment with "exceptional conduct"

A lorry driver who drove a fuel tanker loaded with 2,000 litres of kerosene into the front of his family home in Dorset has been jailed for seven years.

The judge told Hugh Billington, 51, he was wickedly irresponsible for driving at the bungalow in Wool.

His wife Christine Billington escaped through a window, Dorchester Crown Court heard.

The former Army musician, of no fixed abode, admitted arson being reckless as to whether life was endangered.

He also pleaded guilty to assault by beating, dangerous driving and theft.

Billington ignited four fires inside the bungalow and switched on the gas hob in the kitchen following the crash on 20 January.

He insisted he checked the property was empty before doing so, the court heard.

'Enormous bomb'

He denied the more serious charge of arson with intent to endanger life, a plea that was accepted by the Crown.

Mrs Billington, whose marriage to the defendant broke down last year, escaped to a neighbour's house.

Passing sentence Judge Roger Jarvis said: "If the valves (of the tanker) had been fully open it would have been the most enormous bomb.

"People were walking around and about, including children. What you did was wickedly irresponsible."

The judge also praised the bravery of passerby Darren Fletcher, who reversed the leaking tanker away from the property.

Image caption About 30 firefighters attended the blaze, which was brought under control in about an hour

Billington had left the Household Cavalry Regiment after more than 25 years with "exemplary conduct".

The assault charge related to an attempt by Trevor Knott, an off-duty special constable, to apprehend Billington following the tanker incident.

Billington, originally from Yeovil in Somerset, also admitted he stole a boiler suit and a rugby shirt from Oliver Towers on the same day he drove the ERF tanker into the bungalow.

He was subject to a court order which prevented him from contacting his wife at the time of the offence, the court heard.

Billington's wife and two adult children were sitting in the public gallery throughout the sentencing hearing.

About 30 firefighters tackled the blaze at the couple's bungalow.

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