AN arsonist who tried to set fire to a police car outside a Leeds city centre shopping centre has been locked up after being described as a danger to the public.
Stewart Jefferson was given an extended prison sentence after a court heard he set a rolled up sleeping bag alight before placing it under a patrol car in front of Trinity shopping centre.
Two years ago Jefferson went on trial accused of starting the blaze that caused millions of pounds worth of damage to the former Majestic nightclub building on September 30 2014 but was found not guilty by the jury.
Jefferson was jailed for three years and four months and told he must serve an extended licence period of four years over the police car incident which took place on February 14 this year.
Richard Walters, prosecuting, said officers were called to the Trinity centre after Jefferson had made an allegation of being assaulted.
Officers investigating the complaint noticed Jefferson acting suspiciously near to the Briggate entrance of the centre as they were viewing CCTV footage.
Jefferson was caught on camera setting fire to the sleeping bag before placing it under the vehicle and walking away.
A member of the public spotted the danger and removed the sleeping bag before the fire spread to the car.
Jefferson was arrested nearby. He was later taken to hospital after swallowing a bag of white powder while in custody.
Jefferson was also filmed on a police body camera saying: “I’m going to do the same thing again. Set a police car on fire from underneath.
“I will do the same thing, and the same thing and the same thing again until I get an apology.
He added: “It was either set a police car on fire or drive a big truck through Elland Road (police station).”
Jefferson, of Wickham Street, Beeston, pleaded guilty to attempted arson being reckless as to whether life was endangered.
The court heard he has three previous convictions for arson.
Ian Cook, mitigating, said Jefferson’s offending was linked to long-term drug and alcohol problems.
Judge Geoffrey Marson, QC, told Jefferson he was imposing the extended prison as he considered him a risk of causing serious harm to the public.
Fire starter was cleared of setting Majestic nightclub building ablaze
Jefferson was cleared by a jury in April 2015 of starting a massive fire that gutted the former Majestic nightclub on Leeds City Square.
The prosecution at the trial claimed homeless Jefferson had placed lives in danger as staff and guests of the neighbouring Quebec Hotel had to be evacuated during the incident on September 30, 2014.
Massive structural damage to the upper floors and domed roof of the building was caused.
A fire investigator concluded that the blaze had been caused by a naked flame being deliberately placed against seats.
The building had not been in use since 2006. In 2010 it was bought by Rushbond Plc with a view to the property being let.
At the time of the incident the company 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 witness spotted that one of the building’s fire doors was open.
Around 6.20pm a woman saw a man stood in the doorway asking for help to close it.
The security alarms to the building were activated around the same time. Staff from the Quebec Hotel saw smoke coming from the building.
The jury heard a man went into the hotel reception area and shouted: “Smash the fire alarm, get everyone out.”
The same man then picked up a pint glass of beer that a resident had been drinking and left with it.
Jefferson had a lighter and an alcohol-soaked cloth on him when he was arrested.
Jefferson gave evidence at the trial, telling the jury he went inside the building to find somewhere to sleep and keep warm.
He said once inside the building he saw smoke and went to the Quebec Hotel next door to raise the alarm, adding: “I did what any normal person would do.”
Jefferson then said he took a beer from one of the bar tables because he was “thirsty”.
The jury was told Jefferson had previous convictions for arson - one at a bank and one involving a car.
He argued that the convictions were 15 years ago when he was battling alcoholism and had since tried to clean up his act.
He said: “I don’t mess about with fire any more.
“I’ve learned from when I was a kid. I’ve grown up, tried to stop my drinking and gone to AA meetings.
“I have my son and my freedom to think about instead of playing stupid games with fire.”
Jurors found him not guilty of arson being reckless as to whether life was endangered and an alternative charge of arson.