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A prisoner who set fire to the roof of HMP Guys Marsh near Shaftesbury causing millions of pounds worth of damage has been sentenced.

Nigel John Saunders, 29, appeared before Bournemouth Crown Court today, Friday 25 August 2017, after pleading guilty at the same court on Thursday 22 June 2017 to an offence of arson with intent to endanger life.

He was handed a seven-year prison term.

The court heard that at around 4.30pm on Friday 10 March 2017 serving prisoner Saunders climbed onto the roof of the Wessex Unit, which houses prisoner accommodation and communal areas.

Saunders, who was serving a two-year prison term for offences that had been dealt with at Taunton Crown Court, was seen to urinate on the roof and smash a nearby window.

Staff saw Saunders drink from a 1.5 litre bottle and then a further container containing a home-made alcoholic drink known as hooch before he stated he was going to cause some ‘mayhem’.

By just after 6pm Saunders’ behaviour was described by prison staff as becoming affected by alcohol.

At around 8pm Saunders removed his clothes, placed them in a sheltered lip of the roof and set the clothes and roof alight.

The staff attempted to contain the fire by using a hose but Saunders blocked the water with his body allowing the fire to develop further, the court was told.

One prison officer told Saunders that his actions could result in a life sentence and Saunders was heard to shout: ‘The roof, the roof, the roof is on fire.’

The fire service was called and 66 prisoners, many of which were locked in their cells, were evacuated for their own safety to the gymnasium where they spent the night.

Due to the severity of the blaze, a total of 18 appliances and 100 firefighters attended the incident. The fire service remained on site for more than 60 hours extinguishing the fire and damping down.

Saunders agreed to step down from the roof after eight hours and was detained by prison staff. He was found to be in possession of a cigarette lighter.

Luckily no one was injured in the incident.

The fire caused significant damage, costing millions of pounds, to the unit which was left unfit for use. More than 50 prisoners had to be moved to other prisons following the incident.

Footage from prison CCTV and body worn cameras worn by prison staff was played to the court.

Detective Constable Gerald Marchant, of Weymouth CID, said: ‘Nigel Saunders actions were highly dangerous and reckless. He risked the lives of a large number of prisoners and staff by setting fire to the roof of the prison in an act of sheer stupidity.

‘He was also responsible for causing an enormous amount of damage that will cost the Prison Service millions of pounds to repair.

‘Dorset Police works closely with the Prison Service to ensure that anyone responsible for committing crimes inside prison walls will be investigated thoroughly and dealt with robustly by the court.’

Prisons Minister Sam Gyimah said: ‘We do not tolerate any damage to prison property especially if it could endanger the life of staff and prisoners and I welcome the significant sentence handed down in this case.

‘We will continue to work closely with the police and the CPS to ensure that offenders face swift justice and that courts have full evidence of damage caused in order to impose the strongest possible punishment.’

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