Former soldier who threatened to blow up Darlington street walks free from court

The Northern Echo: Teesside Crown Court Teesside Crown Court

A FORMER soldier who threatened to blow up an entire street during a tense stand-off with police has walked free from court.

Christopher Beckett claimed to have turned on the gas in a house and started lighting fires - and told police that he had a gun.

Other residents in Brighton Road, Darlington, were evacuated and hostage negotiators were called in to deal with the drama.

Armed officers were also at the scene as 25-year-old Beckett warned: "I'll blow up the house and take the full street with me."

Teesside Crown Court heard yesterday (Wednesday, December 18) how he flipped following the death of a close friend who had been his "adoptive father".

The man had taken in Beckett and his girlfriend after they met while having psychiatric treatment at West Park Hospital in Darlington.

On the day of the drama, Beckett found his friend dead, and was told by police to leave the house because he had no right to be there.

He got drunk with his girlfriend and returned to the terraced property later that day, September 3, said prosecutor Rachel Masters.

His worried partner called 999 and when police arrived on the scene, Beckett threatened to kill them, the court was told.

"He said he was going to blow the house up and would take the full street with him," Miss Masters said. "There were major concerns.

"He said he had turned on the gas, and he was seen at a window setting light to a towel, saying was going to take the police with him.

"Efforts were made to try to evacuate the street. There was a large police response, and ambulance and fire brigade were there too.

"He continued with threats to burn everyone, including children, and said he had a gun because he previously served in the Army."

The court heard how Beckett threw a burning towel from a window, started a series of small fires inside and house filled with smoke.

After he set alight downstairs blinds, the arsonist's girlfriend was heard shouting: "Chris, please let me out. I don't want to die."

She escaped from a window before officers forced their way in, but Beckett wrapped himself in a duvet and then set it alight.

Miss Masters said he was found in a bedroom surrounded by small fires, and continued to fight despite being shot twice with Taser guns.

Scott Smith, mitigating told the court that Beckett - prosecuted eight years ago for arson - had a "chaotic and troubled" upbringing.

He said: "He suffered physical abuse before the age of two and was taken into care. That has had quite a significant impact.

"Perhaps, not unusually, he sought to bury it in the back of his mind . . . then the death had a huge impact on him."

Beckett, now of Surtees Street, Bishop Auckland, admitted arson being reckless as to whether life was endangered and affray.

Judge Tony Briggs gave him a two-year prison sentence, which was suspended for two years, with probation supervision.

The judge told him: "The problem about people who set fire to things is very frequently things get out of control very quickly.

"I have no doubt you are aware from reports in the not too distant past that dreadful tragedies occur."

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