Oxford

Andrew Main admits Oxfordshire council offices arson attacks

Andrew Main, pictured in grey, led to security van
Image caption Andrew Main (pictured on the right) pleaded guilty to four counts of arson

A man has admitted starting a series of overnight fires in Oxfordshire, including one that caused major damage to council offices.

Andrew Main, 47, pleaded guilty to four counts of arson at a hearing at Oxford Crown Court.

Main, of Rokemarsh near Wallingford, pleaded not guilty to a further charge of arson with intent to endanger life.

South Oxfordshire District Council's office, an undertakers and a thatched cottage were set alight on 15 January.

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Media captionWoman recalls arson attack on her cottage

At their peak, 27 crews were tackling the fires in Rokemarsh and Crowmarsh Gifford which started within 10 minutes of each other shortly after 03:00 GMT. No-one was hurt.

In the first blaze, Jean Gladstone, 80, escaped unhurt from her thatched cottage on Quakers Corner in Rokemarsh.

Minutes later, a second fire was reported at Howard Chadwick Funeral Service in the village of Crowmarsh Gifford.

The third blaze engulfed the nearby council offices.

Image copyright Ian negus
Image caption The South Oxfordshire District Council HQ was set alight on 15 January

No explanation as to why Main started the fires was given in court, though at the time there were suggestions it was in connection with a planning row.

It was revealed in court that he has mental health issues.

A decision on whether a trial will proceed over the count of arson with intent to endanger life will be made next month.

He has been remanded in custody.

Image caption The fires started within 10 minutes of each other shortly after 3:00 GMT

Main set the fires using gas cylinders. The burnt-out wreckage of a car that ploughed in to the council building moments before it became engulfed in flames was found in the foyer.

Gas canisters were found at all three fire sites as well as at Main's home.

Four hundred staff worked at the offices. The fire completely destroyed the planning department and badly affected the environmental health department and housing department.

Planning applications and comments submitted in the days before the fire were destroyed and had to be resubmitted

The complex also housed about two-thirds of the Vale of the White Horse District Council's staff.

The authorities' websites were also temporarily offline after the blaze.

The funeral parlour reopened last month following £100,000 of repair work.

The council has been operating out of Vale of the White Horse District Council offices in Abingdon since the fire.

Staff are due to move into rented offices in Milton Park, Didcot at the end of May.

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