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Wednesday 27 August 2014

Drug addict jailed for eight years over fires at hospitals

Tom Pugh

Published 24/01/2013 | 05:00

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A CAREER criminal who admitted starting fires at hospitals and a hotel so he could commit thefts to buy drugs has been jailed for eight years.

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Homeless addict Thomas Ashcroft (35) was accused by a judge of "sheer premeditated wickedness" for putting innocent lives at risks by targeting hospitals.

He set the fires to cause a distraction before rifling tills to help fund his £250 (€300)-a-day crack cocaine and heroin addiction.

Ashcroft (pictured) admitted arson, being reckless as to whether life was endangered, and burglary at the Kent and Canterbury Hospital and the Hilton Hotel in Sheffield last August 30 and July 15.

Judge James O'Mahony asked for eight further matters to be taken into consideration relating to arsons and burglaries at other locations across Britain. Jailing him at Canterbury Crown Court, the judge said he will serve eight years behind bars.

On July 14, only weeks after his release from prison for burglary, he broke into Rotherham District General Hospital in South Yorkshire.

Next day, he set fire to a quilt in a store at the Hilton, triggering the automatic sprinkler system. As water cascaded through the ceiling, Ashcroft stole £132 (€157) from a bar till. On July 21, he targeted the Midland Hotel in Manchester, torching a trolley which resulted in another evacuation. With the coast clear, he dipped his hand in a till in the beauty parlour before escaping through fire doors, but he was captured on CCTV, which later helped identify him.

Also that day, the court heard Ashcroft travelled to the Hilton Hotel at Gatwick Airport where a quilt was set alight but nothing was stolen.

The following day, Ashcroft visited the Sealife Centre visitor attraction in Brighton, where another fire was set and he stole £50 (€60) from a till. Later the same day, he set fire to clothes at Brighton's Dome and, following the evacuation, stole £82 (€97) from the cafe.

Campaign

He then travelled south to the Sussex coast, and on August 26 set fire to a quilt at the Royal Albion Hotel in Brighton, prompting its evacuation. He went on to steal £75 (€90) from a till, the court heard.

Ashcroft's campaign was interrupted when he was arrested for shoplifting in Blackburn, Lancashire, on July 26 and returned to custody before being released just under four weeks later.

Then on August 30, Ashcroft targeted a third hospital – the Kent and Canterbury.

With the situation "spiralling out of control", Ashcroft surrendered himself by telephoning police in Ramsgate the following day.

Irish Independent

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