Man jailed for devastating arson attack on Harrogate homeless charity

A man who torched a Harrogate homeless charity’s clothes store in an apparent revenge attack, has been jailed for 16 months.

Thursday, 31st October 2019, 11:17 am
Kenneth Fowler.

Kenneth Fowler, 62, had been helped by the Springboard Project in Harrogate to get back on his feet after years of living rough.

But for some inexplicable and unknown reason, he attacked the Harrogate charity in the dead of night - first by setting fire to a shed in which clothes were stored for the homeless, then by smashing a window with a hammer.

A volunteer with the charity saw the scenes unfold on CCTV and looked on in horror as the clothes stores went up in flames, York Crown Court heard.

A man with a beard and wearing a “distinctive” jacket was then seen walking away from the blaze behind the Wesley Methodist Church in Oxford Street, said prosecutor Martin Bosomworth.

Fowler, who appeared to have some kind of “grudge” against the charity, discarded his jacket as he walked off in a bid to hide evidence.

The blaze caused nearly £1,300 damage to the clothes store and its contents. The hammer attack, in which Fowler smashed a window in the door, caused almost £200 in damage.

The total £1,500 loss had hit the charity hard financially, affected provisions to the homeless and severely dented staff morale, said Mr Bosomworth.

Fowler, from Harrogate, but of no fixed abode, appeared in court for sentence on Thursday after pleading guilty to arson and criminal damage.

The shocking incident occurred in the early hours of August 11 last year when Fowler, who was drunk, made a beeline for the Wesley Chapel.

“He’s got with him materials both to break in, set fire and then smash the window,” said Mr Bosomworth. CCTV footage showed Fowler approaching the shed at about 4am and then using “some kind of instrument” to jemmy open the padlock, before “leaning in”.

Within seconds, the shed had burst into flames. Police and the fire service were called out but the blaze did not spread to other buildings. Mr Bosomworth said that some kind of accelerant or perhaps paper may have been used to start the fire, but there was no proof of either.

Fowler - who has 101 previous convictions for a staggering 219 offences - said he barely remembered the incident because he was drunk.

The court heard that the charity - also known as the Bower Street Homeless Project - relied completely on donations such as clothes and the damage caused had resulted in severe disruption to an organisation set up not just to help the homeless, but also offenders with drug and alcohol problems.

“One can only assume that (Fowler) must have had some kind of grievance, having had dealings with the organisation in the past,” added Mr Bosomworth. Another (CCTV) camera picks (Fowler) up outside the front of the project. He appeared to have a hammer and smashes the window on the door.”

Mr Bosomworth said the charity was on a “tight budget,” and vulnerable users would have been affected.

Defence barrister Harry Crowson said: “Mr Fowler doesn’t have a particularly-clear memory of the evening due to him being drunk. That’s the theme to his previous convictions and his life.”

Fowler - whose 50-year criminal history comprised mainly shoplifting and drunk-and-disorderly offences - recorded his first criminal conviction at just 13 years of age and had been homeless ever since.

Judge Simon Hickey told him: “For some reason you had some sort of grievance that night and you decided to set fire to the shed (which is) there to collect clothes and (be) distributed by volunteers to help (people like you). It was a mean offence, harming vulnerable members of the community like yourself.”

Fowler was jailed for 16 months.