Arson conviction for Ottery man’s ‘night of shame’

An Ottery father of four was convicted of arson after setting fire to bin bags outside a bank on a ‘night of shame’.

Darrell Willis, 30, will have to complete 180 hours of unpaid work and pay a total of �450 after the trial at Central Devon Magistrates Court on Tuesday.

The self-employed plasterer, who lives in Franklea Close with his partner and four young children, was on a night-out in Exeter last august when he started the fire, which was captured on CCTV.

After he was found guilty the prosecutor, Mr Haddow, revealed to the court he was also convicted last September for a drink-driving charge stemming from the same evening, calling it his ‘night of shame’.

Willis maintained his innocence throughout the arson trial, admitting he crouched down by the bags, but was adamant he did not light them on fire.

But the magistrates said his evidence was ‘poor, and contained a number of inconsistencies’, saying the video evidence clearly showed his actions.

The prosecution explained the defendant drove his two friends into Exeter for a night out, and around 1.20am on Thursday, August 18, was walking along the High Street.

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Police officer DC Emily Shepherd, who investigated the case, then played the court video taken from a camera inside the branch of Santander bank, which showed a man approaching two bin bags outside its glass doors.

The footage then freezes, but several seconds later it shows the bags well alight. A statement from the bank confirmed damage was caused to a wooden fascia and to exterior brickwork.

Willis, who admitted to having ‘four or five’ pints during the course of the evening, said he was drawn to a tin which had a ‘glowing ember’ in it.

He told the court he tried to put it out by standing on it as he got up, but did not check after he left to catch up with his friends, and said this was how the fire must have started.

But Mr Haddow said this explanation was ‘ridiculous’, and said his story was ‘absolute nonsense’, calling his testimony ‘a pack of lies’.

Willis was ordered to pay �100 compensation to the bank and �350 in costs, as well as complete 180 hours of unpaid work.