A SERIAL arsonist who set a Grade II listed building alight has been warned he is facing the prospect of a life sentence.

Stefan Geary caused significant damage to the derelict building when torched it while sleeping rough in the former community centre.

The fire destroyed the roof of the building and left one the gable walls in a highly dangerous condition.

Teesside Crown Court heard that when firefighters arrived at the scene on Milbank Street, South Bank, Middlesbrough, they found Geary in the area.

And when police arrived he said ‘I know I shouldn’t have done it’ and was arrested and charged.

Sam Faulks, prosecuting, said: “He described himself as an arsonist and had tried to hand himself in at South Bank police station but it was closed.”

The counsel said Geary had been staying inside the derelict building before the fire.

He added: “He said he started the fire in order to keep warm but it got out of hand.”

The former presbytery dates back to 1881 and was once used as a probation office and a community centre.

The Northern Echo: The former community centre on Milbank Road, South BankThe former community centre on Milbank Road, South Bank

The court heard how the fire had caused significant damage to the listed building.

Mr Faulks told the court how Geary had previous convictions for arson including being jailed after setting fire to a church and two schools in the Newcastle area.

Geary was jailed at Newcastle Crown Court after causing more than £1.5m worth of damage.

He broke into each property and used accelerant to start their fire – and would then watch as fire crews struggled to tackle the blaze.

He was eventually trapped when firefighters began recognising his face and DNA taken from a fire was matched to him.

The defendant was also convicted after setting three cars alight in a Blackpool car park.

Geary, of Furness Street, Hartlepool, pleaded guilty to arson following the incident in September last year.

Judge Jonathan Carroll called for a pre-sentence report to be compiled as Geary was facing a mandatory life sentence due to his previous convictions for similar offences.

He said: "It seems to me you are at risk of a life sentence. Given that this is such a serious case your counsel wishes that you have a pre-sentence report before this matter reaches its conclusion."

The case was adjourned until April 19 and Geary was remanded in custody.