A JUDGE allowed an arsonist to walk free after hearing he had transformed his life since torching his friend's home.

Josh Riley was described as being an "obnoxious yob" when he forced his way in and started the blazes in October 2011.

Teesside Crown Court heard today (Thursday, January 10) that he has since been living in a hostel run by a religious organisation in Northumberland.

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Defence barrister, Peter Makepeace, described the change in the Middlesbrough 23-year-old as "extraordinarily dramatic".

He said Riley had made a "phenomenal" turn-around, was now drink and drug-free and worked six days a week as a landscaper.

Judge John Walford acknowledged the transformation by imposing a 12-month prison sentence which he suspended for two years.

He told Riley that he would have been jailed for three years had he been dealing with the "self-indulgent bully" of 15 months ago.

"You have transformed your life and you have become a valuable member of this community. I trust that the change is a permanent one and short-lived and cosmetic."

The court heard that Riley forced his way into the home of his friend, refused to leave when asked and lit six fires inside.

Mr Makepeace said: "It is clear from this offence, he was living a completely feckless, drink- and drug-induced lifestyle,damaging himself and damaging those around him."


Riley, who admitted two charges of arson, was told by the judge: "You were behaving in a thoroughly obnoxious, bullying, self-indulgent way."