Accused was "out of control" says sheriff

A DRUNK man, who started a fire in the block of flats where he lived, was jailed for a year at Wick Sheriff Court today.

Sheriff Andrew Berry told Paul Fairweather, who had just been released from prison, earlier that day, after serving a term for an unrelated crime, that his life was "pretty much out of control" at the time.

Neighbours outside his flat in Holborn Avenue, in Thurso, made desperate efforts to alert Paul Fairweather and became alarmed when they saw he was not making any effort to quell the flames.

He told them:- "There is no fire".

Then Fairweather, 31, grabbed a cushion and proceeded to smother a carpet which was alight Wick Sheriff Court was told.

Shortly afterwards, he was observed in his garden, challenging a neighbour to fight and later threatened and abused police officers who arrested him.

Fairweather pleaded guilty on indictment to culpably and recklessly setting fire to a carpet, on November 25, to the danger of residents in the block of flats. He admitted further charges of breach of the peace and abusive behaviour.

Fiscal Fraser Matheson said that the fire had burned through the carpet onto a patch of flooring.

A neighbour was contacting the police, as Fairweather made his way into his garden holding a pole behind his back.

While shouting abuse, he alarmed neighbour John McGill by challenging him to fight saying- "Come into the garden and give me a square go."

By the time the police arrived, Fairweather had returned to his flat and as the officers approached, he threw a gas cylinder out of the window.

After a 55-minute conversation, said Mr Matheson, the accused was persuaded to come to the door but he warned that if the police tried to come in, "there would be a bit of a carry-on and someone would get stabbed."

On the way to Wick police station, Fairweather repeatedly kicked the inside of the van and feigned a fit, prompting the driver to pull up. He abandoned the pretence at the police station and became aggressive, struggled with the officers and subjected them to racially-aggravated abuse.

Solicitor Michael Burnett said that Fairweather's anger had been triggered by a comment from the mother of his children that he would not be getting to see them.

Mr Burnett: "His mood of anger and despair started him drinking".

The solicitor added: "In his drunken state he knocked over an ash tray which ignited the carpet. My client accepts that he didn't attend to the outbreak as quickly as he should have done."

Mr Burnett described Fairweather's behaviour towards the police, going about their duties, as "absolutely atrocious."

The solicitor submitted that the fire was at the lower end of the scale and had not required the fire brigade.

Sheriff Berry said that while the fire offence was not one of wilful fireraising, it was no less disturbing for Fairweather's neighbours.

The accused had had a stand-off with the neighbour, then, with a pole behind his back, had a confrontation with one of them and added to that was "every form of absolutely shocking abuse" inflicted on the police officers.

The sheriff who saw a background report, said that last year saw "a downward spiralling of the accused's offending" culminating in the present charges.

Fairweather will be subject to a six-months supervision order when he is released from prison to "protect the public from potentially, serious harm."

His year-long prison sentence was backdated to November 29 when the accused was taken into custody.