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Christchurch teen Ben Brown jailed after arson attack on home of 83-year-old

A FRAIL 83-year-old widow had to flee her home after it was set alight by a teenager who went on the rampage after smoking cannabis.

Ben Brown had “effectively smoked” himself “into a psychosis”, said a judge at Bournemouth Crown Court, before carrying out an arson attack at the Christchurch pensioner’s bungalow.

The court heard how Brown, then aged 19, threw a lump of concrete through the pensioner’s bedroom window then set her curtains alight on the evening of 21st March 2021.

Ben Brown
Ben Brown

Prosecutor Christopher Wing told how she heard a sound then smelt smoke and her fire alarm went off.

Although she could only move about with a walking frame, she managed to make it out of her home.

The fire had resulted in an £180,000 insurance claim, nearly £130,000 for the repair of the bungalow and over £50,000 for contents including “irreplaceable photos and jewellery”.

Brown was sentenced at Bournemouth Crown Court
Brown was sentenced at Bournemouth Crown Court

The court heard the victim was forced to move 13 times during the time it took to repair her home.

Mr Wing said the pensioner had told police that after the attack she had gone into a “deep, deep depression” adding: “I am a bundle of nerves and I am so frightened of everything.”

Judge Jonathan Fuller KC interjected Mr Wing to exclaim: “If she had been in bed, goodness knows what would have happened; if she had been asleep she could have been killed.”

Brown had committed his arson attack after first throwing rocks through the windscreen and rear window of an Audi Q5 parked on Martins Hill Lane, Burton, at around 7.20pm causing over £500 worth of damage.

The defendant of Treebys Close, Christchurch, then went to a house on the same road half an hour later and threw a lump of concrete through the lounge window.

Mr Wing said a woman sitting on a sofa in the bay window was “nearly hit” by it.

Brown then launched his attack on the widow’s home before then throwing a rock through the side window of an Audi TT car also parked on Martins Hill Lane.

Witnesses gave police a description of Brown and the fact that he was riding a blue bike. Officers found him still in the area.

Brown later told police he believed the people living in the homes he attacked, and also the owners of the cars he vandalised, had killed his dog.

Several psychiatrists who examined him after his arrest found he had been suffering a psychotic episode brought on by cannabis use.

He was charged with arson and three offences of criminal damage. The court heard he had first denied the charges but had changed his plea before appearing at magistrates’ court.

Defence barrister Lucy Conroy said Brown had used the drug to “self-medicate” his mental health problems.

He had suffered a “tumultuous” upbringing, she added, revealing that after separating from his father, Brown’s mother had taken him and his siblings to his house for a visit then “never came to pick them up”.

She said medical experts had concluded Brown’s prolonged use of cannabis, which he had been smoking since he was 14, had caused his psychosis on the day of the attacks.

Talking about his victims she said: “He did not set out to hurt them. He is a young man who was not in his right mind.”

But sentencing Brown, Judge Fuller pointed out the defendant had told a probation officer he did not want to quit cannabis and wanted to be prescribed the drug, saying it “keeps him on an even keel”.

He added: “If he ups his cannabis use he is likely to become psychotic, he does present a risk.”

Talking about the offences, he said that Brown in a “rage” had “decided to take out his anger out in a number of ways”.

Jailing Brown to four years for the arson attack, the judge said when he was released he would be subject to an 18-month extended period of licence.

On the charges of criminal damage, he was jailed for three months on each, to run concurrently.

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