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Revenge spurred security guard to start Brighton Hill blaze
A FEMALE security guard has been jailed for more than six years after she started one of the biggest fires in Basingstoke’s history in an act of revenge against her employer.
Jo Palmer set fire to a partially-built block of flats in Gershwin Road, Brighton Hill, on September 10, 2010 – a blaze that caused £5.5million of damage and led to the evacuation of nearby homes.
More than 100 firefighters tried to tackle the blaze on the old Beech Down Primary School site but the four-storey structure, which was being built for support accommodation for older people, was completely destroyed.
Winchester Crown Court heard that Palmer had been working for security firm Assured Facilities Limited, guarding the construction site from intruders.
Passing sentence, Judge Guy Boney said: “On that day, it seems you had an argument with your boss because you thought you had been underpaid and were not receiving travelling expenses to which you thought you were entitled.
“Whatever the rights and wrongs of your argument, you, in your own admission, exacted revenge on your employer by setting fire to the construction with the intention that the damage caused would make your employer lose the contract.”
After the blaze, Palmer told police officers that she had seen two young boys flee the site before she raised the alarm about the fire.
David Richards, prosecuting, said four teenagers were arrested as a result but were later released without charge when Palmer did not pick any of them out of an identity parade.
He said: “Her version of events kept changing. It became clearer and clearer to the police that nothing of what she said was true.”
The court heard Palmer handed herself in at Basingstoke police station in December last year, and falsely claimed she started the fire as a way of disposing of the bodies of two vagrants she said she had killed.
She finally revealed her real motive in a probation report prepared for the hearing, and in a letter to the judge.
Mr Richards said various psychological tests had been carried out on Palmer but they concluded that “the motivation behind the arson was a grudge rather than any psychological issue”.
The 44-year-old, of no fixed abode, pleaded guilty to arson and perverting the course of justice.
Judge Boney called Palmer a “complete fantasist”. He added: “I am told from reports that you are fit to plead and that there are no mental health issues, and it follows that you fall to be sentenced for what is to be regarded as a serious case of arson.”
Palmer received five years and two months’ imprisonment for arson, and 12 months for perverting the course of justice, to run consecutively. She was also told she would remain on licence for three years following her release.
After the sentence, Detective Constable Louise Trigg said: “Hampshire Constabulary takes these sorts of offences extremely seriously.
“Not only did Jo Palmer cause a huge amount of damage, but her actions inconvenienced the local community for several days. She also gave a false statement which led to four completely innocent teenagers being arrested in connection with this investigation.”
The torched complex was rebuilt by Castleoak Construction, for Saxon Weald housing association, and opened this March.