April 3, 2023 3.26 pm This story is over 14 months old

Arsonist who started fire which closed Lincoln A&E sentenced to six years

He watched TV and vaped rather than attend his sentencing

A man who started a fire that caused the closure of a hospital’s Accident and Emergency department and a £1.9 million insurance bill was today (Mon) jailed for six years and nine months.

John Gillon Watson, 57, was also given the maximum extended licence period of five years on his release from jail after a judge decided he is a dangerous offender.

Patients and staff had to be evacuated from Lincoln County Hospital during the blaze on 29 March 2022, which caused initial damage estimated at £180,000 and an insurance loss of £1.9 million.

Lincoln Crown Court heard the fire was started on a medical trolley in the interventional radiology room where Watson was caught on CCTV at the time of the  blaze, just before 3am.

Watson, 57, did not attend his sentence hearing at Lincoln Crown Court after resfusing to leave his cell at Lincoln Prison where he was remanded.

He also refused to appear on a video-link which had been set up from the jail.

Arson damage at Lincoln A&E | Photo: Lincolnshire Police

The sentencing judge heard evidence from a prison officer who told the court he had personally informed Watson of the hearing, but he waved him away.

“He was laid on his bed merrily watching television, and vaping,” the officer said.

Watson, of Vicarage Court, Sleaford, Lincs, had previously pleaded guilty to a charge of arson being reckless as to whether life was endangerd at Lincoln County Hospital.

He also admitted a separate arson charge on 16 October 2021 at an alleyway in Sleaford Market Place where he set fire to a bin near to a burger bar with a lit cigarette and lighter.

Annabel Lenton, prosecuting, said the first arson was caught on CCTV at 1am and Watson was heard shouting “fire, fire.” He had initially claimed three young men had been in the area.

Miss Lenton said the second more serious fire was first detected in the A&E department at Lincoln County Hospital just before 3am on 29 March last year.

The court heard six fire appliances were called to the blaze which took an hour to extinguish.

“By luck no one was injured,”Miss Lenton added. “But the Accident and Emergency unit was closed for 13 hours.”

Arson damage at Lincoln A&E | Photo: Lincolnshire Police

Miss Lenton said Watson’s movements around the hospital had been caught on various CCTV cameras after he self presented himself to the hospital at 1.27am with chest pains.

At 2.20am Watson could be seen in the A&E department wearing a “distinctive Elvis jacket,” Miss Lenton said.

Watson was later filmed in the same room as the seat of the fire at 2.55am, the court heard.

He later appeared to be panicking, and pushing a fire door three times, and was seen in a smoke filled corridor talking to a fire officer.

The seat of the fire was located in a medical trolley where a fire had been started with a naked flame and no accelerant.

Miss Lenton said within five minutes and 52 seconds of the fire starting, seven separate fire alarms had been activated in the hospital.

The court heard police visited Watson at 10.30am for an initial safety check on those still not present at the hospital.

Watson denied any involvement but the officers became aware Watson was wanted in connection with the fire.

Arson damage at Lincoln A&E | Photo: Lincolnshire Police

At the police station a green lighter was found in Watson’s sock which he claimed he did not know was there.

Watson refused to co-operate with either a probation or psychiatric report.

Neil Sands, mitigating, said there was little in Watson’s previous convictions to suggest the seriousness of the hospital offence.

The court heard Watson had just one previous conviction for handling stolen goods and failing to surrender in 1995.

Passing sentence on Watson in his absence Judge James House KC said: “It is plain he had started the fire.”

Judge House said the fire included a real risk of an explosion due to the proximity of gas pipes, and a serious risk to both patients and staff.

“Fortunately the fire doors did their job, although they would have succumbed eventually,”Judge House added.

“It was luck and the prompt action of the fire service and staff that stopped it becoming even more dangerous.”

Judge House said while the insurance claim was £1.9 million, that did not take into account the human cost of missed appointments and longer journeys to other hospitals.

With two fires in six months, and limited knowledge for the reason, Judge House concluded there was a pattern of behaviour which presented a substantial risk to the public in the future.

MyLocal Lincolnshire is the new home of The Lincolnite. Download the app now