Kent hospital arson attacks 'to commit thefts'

A man started fires at Kent hospitals and a Sheffield hotel to create a diversion so he could steal from tills, Canterbury Crown Court has heard.

Homeless Thomas Ashcroft, 35, previously admitted arson and burglary and is awaiting sentence.

The defence said he had a personality disorder and drug addiction, but the prosecution has said he wanted money and did not consider the consequences.

Judge James O'Mahony adjourned sentencing to consider his options.

He said it was hard to "understand the evil" of putting lives at risk for relatively small sums of cash.

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

'Just wanted money'

He admitted arson being reckless as to whether life was endangered and burglary at the Hilton in Sheffield on 15 July, at the Medway Maritime Hospital on 29 August and at the Kent and Canterbury Hospital on 30 August.

Prosecuting, Martin Yale said Ashcroft told police he travelled around Britain by train, setting fires in buildings which had smoke detectors so the alarm would be raised quickly.

Mr Yale said: "In relation to the offences at the hospitals, Ashcroft said he just wanted the money and didn't think about the consequences."

He said Ashcroft telephoned police to hand himself in on 31 August, and told them he was subject to prison recall.

'Entrenched addiction'

Defence counsel Peter Forbes said Ashcroft did not suffer from a mental illness but had a "fundamental personality disorder".

He said: "What seems to be behind this, and is his only real explanation, is this defendant's entrenched drug addiction."

In mitigation, he said Ashcroft, whose parents died when he was young, targeted premises where there were smoke detectors and sprinklers, and did not use petrol.

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

He asked for eight further matters to be taken into consideration relating to arson and burglaries at other hospitals, hotels and a visitor attraction.

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