Five men have been acquitted at St Albans Crown Court of joint enterprise arson valued at £500,000.
The Crown alleged that accelerant had been used to start the fire, which caused extensive damage to a community centre. The evidence of accelerant rested on the reaction of a fire investigation dog. When the defence challenged this evidence, which was backed up by a fire expert, the Crown, on the second day of the trial, finally disclosed forensic tests carried out last October. The tests showed that there was no evidence of the use of accelerant, despite the fire dog. On this basis, the Crown conceded the point.
A submission of no case to answer was made at half-time. The Crown, in reliance on high-quality CCTV footage, could show that the five men entered the enclosed area where the fire started, remained there for less than five minutes, and that the fire was started by use of a naked flame, held against flammable material, during this period. However, in the absence of any evidence as to who started the fire, and the inability of the Crown to rebut innocent explanations for the presence of all five men, the judge accepted submissions on behalf of the defence that the prosecution could not establish that any defendant was party to a joint enterprise to start the fire. He therefore accepted that there was no case to answer for any defendant.
Patrick Roche and Lucie Wibberley of the Garden Court Crime Team represented two of the five defendants and were instructed by Sikander Choudhury of City Law Chambers. Sikander instructed fire expert Jennefer Grey of Keith Borer Associates to challenge the evidence of accelerant.