Canterbury arsonist Richard Barham torched cars and left couple fearing for their lives

A drunken fire-starter left a terrified couple trapped inside their smoke-filled home after triggering a series of explosions during an arson spree.

Richard Barham, 38, torched several cars in Canterbury in the early hours of the morning, causing more than £70,000 worth of damage.

The smoke from one blaze engulfed a nearby home, with those inside left fearing for their lives and describing the ordeal as “the stuff of nightmares”.

Barham – who was being investigated for a “vicious and premeditated” attack at the time of the fires – claims to have no recollection of the night.

But he pleaded guilty to a series of charges and was jailed for eight years at Canterbury Crown Court on Thursday.

The prosecution told how at about 1am on July 22 last year Barham found himself in the St Dunstan’s area of ​​the city, where he started setting fire to cars.

Five vehicles and a garage were either damaged or destroyed in Church Street, Cross Street, Davidson Road and Bishops Way, prosecutor Bridget Todd explained.

Barham was recorded on CCTV crawling under a Citroen Xsara in Church Street and then fleeing before it ignited, blowing out a nearby building’s windows.

Richard Barham has been jailed following his arson spree and a vicious city center assault Pic: Kent Police
Flames soared into the sky after a car was set alight in Bishops Way
Flames soared into the sky after a car was set alight in Bishops Way

Edward Ludlow and his wife were asleep inside their house at the time of the explosion.

“Having been woken in the middle of the night to the smell of smoke, there then followed one of the most harrowing 30 minutes of my life,” Mr Ludlow told the court.

“Being trapped on the second floor of our home, which was filling with smoke to the extent we couldn’t leave our bedroom.

“My wife and I, leaning out of the window to breathe fresh air, unable to see if the house had caught fire with every frequent explosion from the car that had been set alight.

“The fear that the fire brigade wouldn’t arrive before the building potentially catches fire – it’s the stuff of nightmares.”

The Ludlows eventually managed to get out of the house unharmed, but everything inside was destroyed by smoke, causing more than £40,000 worth of damage.

Cars on fire in Bishops Way.  Pic: Sandie de Rougemont
Cars on fire in Bishops Way. Pic: Sandie de Rougemont
A car destroyed by flames in Bishops Way, Canterbury
A car destroyed by flames in Bishops Way, Canterbury

Emergency crews had rushed to the scene following a number of calls from concerned residents.

Among those who raised the alarm was Sandie de Rougemont, who runs the House of Agnes hotel in St Dunstan’s Street.

“Neighbors started coming out and there were bits of car exploding all over the place,” she told KentOnline at the time.

Margaret Simpson, 73, who lives in Bishops Way, was also woken by the sound of car alarms going off before seeing a bright red light shining on her conservatory walls.

“I heard banging and I thought it was fireworks, but it was a car going up,” she said.

The fires were eventually extinguished without anyone being hurt.

A fireball in Bishops Way, Canterbury
A fireball in Bishops Way, Canterbury
Margaret Simpson, 73, was woken by the sound of car alarms going off
Margaret Simpson, 73, was woken by the sound of car alarms going off

Police officers recognized Barham on CCTV footage as he was wearing the same clothes as on July 20, when he had been taken into custody for being drunk and disorderly.

He was arrested and later charged.

His barrister, Ben Irwin, said Barham had been drinking heavily following an argument with his girlfriend before the offenses were carried out.

He stressed Barham had not purposefully targeted any of the victims.

“This is a man staggering around in the small hours setting fire to cars,” he said.

Asked why Barham ignited the vehicles, Mr Irwin added: “Bluntly, he doesn’t remember.”

Inside a damaged car in Bishops Way
Inside a damaged car in Bishops Way
A burnt-out car in Church Street
A burnt-out car in Church Street

‘VICIOUS ATTACK’

The court was that at the time of Barham’s arson spree he was being investigated for his part in a sustained attack caught on CCTV on May 4.

Alongside an accomplice – 34-year-old James Roberts – he fractured Robert Taylor’s face in multiple places in Canterbury city centre.

The prosecutor explained: “Just before 8pm in the evening the victim had been sitting outside Wilko with his two friends, and unexpectedly he was assaulted by Mr Barham and Mr Roberts.

“Both approached the victim and without warning he was punched a number of times to the face.”

Barham struck Mr Taylor five times until he fell backwards, unconscious, as Roberts joined in, showed camera footage.

As Mr Taylor lay prone, Roberts forcefully punched him in the face and head eight times.

Robert Taylor was brutally beaten outside Wilko in Canterbury.  Pic: Google (56371313)
Robert Taylor was brutally beaten outside Wilko in Canterbury. Pic: Google (56371313)

Mr Taylor was rushed by ambulance to the QEQM hospital and treated for various facial fractures, largely to the nose.

Mitigating for Barham, Mr Irwin explained the attack flowed from an argument with Mr Taylor over his girlfriend.

He said that Barham could be seen on CCTV trying to prevent Roberts from prolonging the attack on Mr Taylor.

The defense solicitor added that his client has had a “difficult life blighted by addiction to alcohol and addiction to drugs”.

Before trial, Barham, of Beckett Avenue, Canterbury, pleaded guilty to inflicting grievous bodily harm and one charge of arson being reckless as to whether life is endangered.

He also asked for five charges of arson relating to the other vehicles and garage to be taken into consideration.

Richard Barham was sentenced at Canterbury Crown Court
Richard Barham was sentenced at Canterbury Crown Court

Judge Simon James described the assault on Mr Taylor as a “vicious joint attack premeditated and reliant on revenge”.

Handing down an extended sentence after deeming Barham dangerous, he told the arsonist he will have to serve a further four years on license after his release.

Barham, who has 35 previous convictions for 59 offenses, was supported by his parents in the public gallery.

Roberts, who also pleaded guilty to inflicting grievous bodily harm, will be sentenced on Wednesday.

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