A man with “an unhealthy fascination with fire” went on an arson spree putting lives at risk and causing more than one-and-a-half million pounds worth of damage in the process, a court heard.
Alexander Gentry, 43, struck late at night in an area of countryside not far from Bedford, targeting a farm, a 300 year old grade 2 listed thatched cottage where a family was sleeping and a vintage car museum, it was claimed.
Gentry was said to have been angry that he was about to be evicted from his bail hostel in Luton where he was staying following his release from prison for arson.
Luton crown court heard today (24 Jun) that the three fires were started in the early hours of 8 January this year in what was described as Mr Gentry’s “old stomping ground.”
Two of the fires were in Wootton, where he had previously lived, and the third was four-and-a-half miles away at Biddenham.
Prosecutor Will Noble told the jury the case concerned a series of arsons, and went on: “What the prosecution say is that this defendant is responsible for all three fires,” he said.
The court heard that in October 2018, following his release from prison where he’d served a sentence for arson, Mr Gentry was required to live at a bail hostel in Luton.
Mr Noble said that on the evening of January 7 he was informed that he would soon have to move out.
“He didn’t receive the news well,” said Mr Noble, who said that Gentry spoke to staff saying “What if I do something or become unsafe because of my anxiety?”
That evening, said the prosecutor, the defendant left the hostel and “signed out” his four cigarette lighters which he had previously handed in.
Mr Noble said that later that evening he turned up at the Fox and Duck pub in Wootton and when asked by a barmaid who knew him if he was still living in Luton, replied that he had been “kicked out”.
Mr Noble said “He complained no-one would help him and he had nowhere to go and he would be better off in prison.”
The jury heard he left the pub soon afterward and made his way to Woodend Farm in Wood End Road – a walk of some 11 minutes from the pub.
The court heard a husband and wife Richard and Fiona Frossell lived at the farm and between 10pm and 11pm on the night of January 7 Fiona had gone out to check the animals and barns before going to bed.
“Just after midnight she got out of bed because she couldn’t sleep and decided to close a window and saw huge flames coming from a Dutch barn filled with 300 straw half ton bales,” said the prosecutor..
The barn was close to a corn barn which in turn was beside the farm house where the husband and wife were sleeping and there was a real chance the flames could have spread to the house endangering the couple, said Mr Noble.
The court heard the fire took three days to burn itself out and caused £33,000 worth of damage.
A fire investigator concluded the fire had been started by a naked flame being applied to straw in the barn, said Mr Noble.
From there, said the prosecutor, the defendant made his way a distance of a 1000 metres to a 300 year old grade two listed thatched cottage in Green End Road called Old Groom Cottage.
Husband and wife Richard and Julie Porter were asleep in the cottage with their young son.
Mr Noble told the court that Gentry is alleged to have again put a naked flames against a low hanging part of the thatched roof at a gable end.
The court was told around 2am that morning the husband woke to discover the cottage on fire and, after waking his wife and child, all three were able to get out.
A 999 call was made to the fire service and Mr Porter tried to fight the fire with a hosepipe.
Mr Noble said it was the prosecution’s case that the defendant then made his way to a vintage car museum off of Great Ouse Way in Biddenham.
The court heard that the owner, Stephen Thomas, had built up a private collection of old and rare cars over the last 50 years and they were housed in a barn on the site.
The jury was told that, having got into the barn, Gentry is alleged to have used a naked flame to set alight the roofs of a number of the vehicle’s resulting in a massive fire taking hold and causing damage worth “in excess of £1 million.”
Mr Noble told the jury they would hear mobile phone evidence which placed the phone of the defendant in the area of each fire at the relevant time.
“The cell site evidence places Mr Gentry in the area of all three fires at the material times,” he said.
The prosecutor said Mr Gentry had links with two of the properties where fired had broken out.
He is said to have worked at the farm and had previously been allowed to live in the grounds of the museum in a caravan.
Mr Noble said it was also possible Mr Gentry had mistaken the cottage he attacked for another one nearby that was owned by the Frossell family.
“He has an unhealthy fascination with fire and he vented his frustration that night by targeting properties from his past,” said the prosecutor.
Mr Noble said that, following the fires, Mr Gentry made his way to Bedford but later that morning returned to Wootton, where he was arrested.
The court was told he smelt strongly of smoke, had grass stains on his knees and his four lighters were seized from him.
Mr Gentry, of no fixed address, pleads not guilty to two charges of arson being reckless as whether life was endangered, and arson.
The case continues.