A man on a three-day cocaine and booze binge set fire to his own home after popping off fireworks ‘like it was the 4th of July’ as he tried to make a film replicating explosions in the Ukraine war.
Drug-addled Benjamin Sheard, 22, was firing the rockets “left, right and centre” inside his bedroom where he had been holed up for days bingeing on drink and drugs, York Crown Court heard.
The fireworks put a hole in his ceiling as smoke billowed out of his window and chimney at the small terrace house in Farrar Street, York.
Prosecutor Anne Richardson said that extensive fire damage was caused to the room following the incident at about 3.40pm on 5 March.
“Other residents in the street heard a series of loud bangs they thought to be fireworks,” she added.
“They saw smoke coming from the chimney and windows from (Sheard’s house).”
Bare-footed Sheard ran out of the front door “covered in soot and blood”. He had a deep cut to his eye and a smaller cut to his arm.
He banged on the door of his next-door neighbour who was sat in his living room. The neighbour said the smoke billowing out of Sheard’s house was “like November 5 coming out of the window”.
The neighbour, who said Sheard was “in panic and shock”, called the fire service who were on the scene in minutes and discovered a “secret room” and staircase behind a wooden panel.
The room had been papered with “various imagery” from magazines and small fragments of mirrors, said Ms Richardson.
Sheard had been living and sleeping in this room whose floor was strewn with clothing.
“They found the rear upstairs window smashed and extensive fire damage to the room,” said Ms Richardson. “There were remnants there of four large fireworks found at the front of the fireplace.”
Arrested in hospital
She said the fireworks had caused a hole in the ceiling and Sheard’s bedroom had been ransacked. In a scene of utter chaos, drawers were strewn “all over the floor”, a bed had been upended and acrid smoke choked the air.
Officers also found several unopened boxes of fireworks and cartridges.
Sheard was given oxygen treatment and taken to York Hospital by ambulance. He told hospital staff there were two other people still inside the property but following a search of the house this proved not to be the case.
Sheard said he had been “making a video with his phone, using fireworks, to replicate explosions in the war in Ukraine”.
“He also said he had been consuming cocaine and alcohol for three days and wanted to travel to Ukraine to help,” added Ms Richardson.
A fire investigator said the fireworks had caused embers and sparks to ignite combustible materials inside the room.
Sheard was arrested in hospital and brought in for questioning the following day. He gave police a prepared statement claiming he had thrown his phone onto the roof of student accommodation behind his house.
Police used a drone to search for the phone, but none was found on the roof nor inside Sheard’s home.
Sent to jail
Ms Richardson said the arson posed a serious risk to neighbours on a “long, narrow street of terraced housing” and student accommodation.
It’s thought that Sheard may have been suffering from drug-induced hallucinations and had not slept for days when he set fire to the property.
He had previous convictions for violence, including a “nasty” drink-fuelled attack on a family member. He had only been released from prison three weeks prior to the fireworks incident.
Sheard admitted arson and being reckless as to whether the life of others would be endangered. He appeared for sentence via video link on Monday (July 11) after being recalled to prison.
Sean Smith, mitigating, said that Sheard had mental-health problems exacerbated by drink and drugs.
Sheard, who had inherited the house from his father, may have been suffering from drug-induced psychosis at the time of the incident, but a doctor’s report concluded there was no evidence of this.
Judge Sean Morris, the Recorder of York, said it seemed that Sheard had spent “hours upon hours” inside his drink-and-drug den, “no doubt on the computer, removed from everyday life, as so often happens”.
He said the root cause of Sheard’s crazy fireworks display was a “binge on alcohol and drugs”.
He told Sheard: “You deluded yourself into thinking you were going to make a film on your phone of being involved in the war in Ukraine.
“You got some fireworks – a huge boxset of fireworks (meant only) for outside use – and you set them off, having cut your face to make yourself look bloody. It was like the 4th of July (American Independence Day) or Bonfire Night.”
Jailing Sheard for two years, Mr Morris said the sentence would have been “considerably” longer were it not for the defendant’s various “afflictions” and the fact that he had raised the alarm straight away.