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At last! Effective sentencing:Arsonist gets 15 years

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  • At last! Effective sentencing:Arsonist gets 15 years

    A serial fire-raiser who caused more than £1.7m-worth of damage when he struck at two schools and a historic church has been jailed for 15 years, for the protection of the public.

    Stefan Geary, who claimed to have been bullied at school, already had convictions for arson when he staged the devastating attacks within three weeks on South Tyneside.

    Psychiatrists could find no explanation for Geary's bizarre behaviour.

    Newcastle Crown Court heard how Geary, 32, used burning paper to set fire to Dunn Street Primary School in Jarrow during the night.

    The blaze almost destroyed the school, which had only weeks earlier been saved from closure after a campaign by parents and staff.

    Fifteen days later Geary broke into the Grade II-listed Victorian Christ Church in Grange Road West, Jarrow, causing extensive damage to the chancel area.

    Just a week after that he set fire to Springfield Comprehensive, also in Jarrow, when damage was confined to a classroom, thanks to quick-reacting firefighters.

    Geary, of Ormonde Street, Jarrow, was arrested as a result of DNA evidence and admitted three offences of arson. He has a previous conviction in 1995 for arson at a flat, when he was jailed for three years, and was given a further three-year prison term in 1999 for setting fire to three cars.

    Tim Parkin, prosecuting, said the attack at Dunn Street Primary School in January happened after Geary broke into the building in the middle of the night.

    The school caretaker went to call the emergency services after spotting the flames and came across Geary - who stopped to talk to him, telling him he had called for help on his mobile phone.

    Geary struck at Christ Church after breaking in through a window and starting a fire in the chancel, with its prized hand-carved wooden panels, choir stalls and altar. He again used paper to start the fire and damage was estimated at around £200,000.

    Six days later he used lit paper again, to set Springfield Comprehensive on fire, but damage was limited to a classroom.

    Tom Finch, defending, said experts could not identify psychiatric or psychological explanations for Geary' behaviour, but it was apparent he had a troubled past and had been a victim of bullying both at school and while in prison.

    Jailing Geary, Judge Tony Lancaster - who had considered a life sentence - told him: "I have come to the conclusion the only sentence in your case is a longer-than-commensurate sentence. I am of the opinion it is necessary to protect the public from serious harm from you."

    Parents pleased to see justice

    Parents of pupils at Dunn Street Primary last night welcomed the news that the author of their school's destruction was facing a long stretch behind bars.

    Dawn Snaith, whose five-year-old son, Rhys, had not long started the school when it was torched, hoped the stiff sentence would teach Geary a lesson.

    Mrs Snaith, 32, of Salem Street, said: "My son was devastated when the school burnt down. We never thought they would catch anyone for it, so it was good to see him brought to justice. It's a long sentence, but he caused a lot of upheaval for the bairns. It's good that he'll be locked up for a long time to stop him doing something like this again."

    Father-of-two James Bramwell, 32, of Pickering Court, said the whole community had been rocked by the loss of the popular school and the disruption to children's education: "It wasn't just our school, there was another school and a church as well - we can do without people like that walking about."

    Tom Fennelly, spokesman for South Tyneside local education authority, said: "The local education authority is satisfied that the person responsible for the very serious fire at Dunn Street Primary and the arson attack on Jarrow School has been properly dealt with by the court. Apart from the massive cost of the destruction of the primary school and the additional costs of providing alternative education, it is the disruption to pupils' education that has been our principal concern.

    "However, even this terrible event has had its positive side, particularly the way the whole education community has rallied round to support Dunn Street School."

    The council plans to rebuild the 185-pupil school, at a cost of at least £500,000.
    United Kingdom branch, IACOJ.

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