A CONVICTED arsonist who was arrested after setting off a fire alarm in the building where he lived has avoided prison.

John Richardson admitted to setting off the alarm, and then calling the fire brigade, at East View Guest House, in High Northgate, Darlington on May 27 last year.

At the time, the 54-year-old was serving a suspended sentence for burglary and the reckless endangerment of life by arson.

But Judge Jonathan Carroll said he would not activate the sentence because of positive reports about his work with probation services.

Sentencing him at Durham Crown Court, he said: “You had many problems in your life at the time, including your alcohol use.

“It seems to me this was a cry for help rather than something more sinister.

“I can see a considerable and obvious difference, even in the way you present yourself. You look like a healthier and better man than when I last saw you.

“I’m going to do nothing to upset the good work you have done.”

The court heard he had made a “huge amount of progress” and is thinking of setting up a business.

Richardson was given a four week prison sentence, suspended for 12 months, to allow him to continue accessing support, and was fined £1 for the breach of the suspended sentence.