A MAN accused of starting a massive fire that gutted a former Leeds nightclub has been cleared of arson charges.
Stewart Jefferson, 32, was found not guilty of arson being reckless as to whether life was endangered and an alternative charge of arson over the blaze at the Majestyk club on City Square.
A jury at Leeds Crown Court took less than two hours to reach unanimous verdicts.
During the trial, Mr Jefferson told the court he was not responsible for the blaze on September 30 last year but had gone inside to find shelter after drinking with friends in the city centre.
Mr Jefferson said once inside the building - now renamed Majestic - he saw smoke and went to the Quebec Hotel next door to raise the alarm, adding: “I did what any normal person would do.”
He said he then took a beer from one of the bar tables because he said he was thirsty.
The prosecution claimed Mr Jefferson, of Broadlea Street, Bramley, Leeds, set fire to a seating area on the upper floor balcony of the listed building.
Major structural damage was caused to the building and firefighters had to battle to stop the blaze spreading to nearby buildings.
The court heard the building had not been in use since 2006. At the time of the incident owners Rushbond Plc had been in negotiations with The Burning Night Group - a Leeds-based bar and nightclub company - over them becoming prospective tenants.
On the morning of the incident a surveyor, structural engineer and architect had been inside the building. Later in the day a witness spotted that one of the building’s fire doors was open. It was alleged Jefferson was seen by a witness standing in the entrance of one of the fire doorways.