Terrified students rescued from fire at halls of residence in Leeds after arsonist showed a 'callous disregard' for lives when he torched building

Students had to be rescued by firefighters at a halls of residence in Leeds after a dangerous arsonist showed a 'callous disregard' for their lives when he torched the building.

Monday, 17th May 2021, 4:45 am

Austin Hall, in Woodhouse, had to be evacuated and firefighters using specialist equipment risked their lives to rescue the terrified students from the fourth floor.

Bradley Starkey was given an extended prison term of 12 years after being found guilty of arson being reckless as to whether life was endangered over the incident on August 29 last year.

A judge who sentenced the 21-year-old at Leeds Crown Court told Starkey he posed a serious danger to the public.

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Arsonist Bradley Starkey was given an extended sentence of 12 years for setting fire to Austin Hall student accommodation in Woodhouse, Leeds.

Judge Robin Mairs said: "If the fire brigade had not acted with such alacrity and courage there would no doubt have been loss of life.

"Your callous disregard for the danger of multiple fatalities could be thrill seeking, sheer malice or you seeking to commit a burglary.

"Even though you are only 21 years of age, it is clear that you will pose a substantial risk for some time."

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Austin Hall and Asquith House, in Woodhouse.

West Yorkshire Fire Service officers used specialist 'smoke hoods' for the first time during the incident.

The court heard many of the students in the building were from China and some have have since returned home due to the trauma they suffered.

Starkey carried out a burglary at the same building eight days before starting the fire.

Giles Grant, prosecuting, said the defendant had managed to gain access to the building by walking in behind another student at a gated entry.

Once inside he tried door handles and took a TV and a pair of trainers.

He left after being confronted by a resident but returned just over a week later when he committed the arson offence.

Starkey entered the building using the same method before walking along corridors trying to gain entry to properties.

He piled up rubbish which had been left in the corridor then set it alight.

The blaze quickly spread and came close to breaching fire doors at either end of the corridor.

Smoke entered some of the rooms and students had to be rescued during the emergency which put pressure on the resources of West Yorkshire Fire and Rescue Service.

Mr Grant said: "There was a risk here of multiple fatalities."

Fire crews from Huddersfield, Halifax and Bradford were called to help tackle the blaze.

Starkey went to the home of his ex girlfriend after the incident and told her what he had done.

Her mother called the police and Starkey was arrested.

He had a bag containing a meat cleaver and a knife when he was arrested and claimed he had them as he was planning to cook a meal.

He has previous convictions for burglary.

A pre-sentence report stated that Starkey had shown little insight into the potential consequences of his behaviour.

While on remand he had started a fire in his cell at HMP Doncaster and had been violent to other inmates.

He was assessed as posing a high risk of harm to the public and to other prisoners.

Jeremy Barton, mitigating, said Starkey had a difficult childhood and has been diagnosed as having a mental disorder.

The barrister added: "The defendant has not had an easy life.

"But there can be no excuse for what the jury found him guilty of."

Starkey must serve a custodial period of eight years, of which he must spend at least two-thirds in prison, followed by an extended four-year term on licence.

He was also made the subject of a restraining order banning him from entering the grounds of Austin Hall or Asquith House, on Servia Road.

The order also bans him from contacting his former partner.

After the case, Detective Inspector James Entwistle, of Leeds District CID, said: “Starkey’s actions in starting this fire were incredibly dangerous and the consequences could easily have been more serious.

“He is clearly someone who presents a significant risk to others and we hope the lengthy sentence he has received will provide some reassurance to those directly affected by this incident and to the wider community.”