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Series of Derbyshire arson attacks leads to sentencing of teenager

11 October 2022

A TEENAGER has been sentenced after admitting to starting seven fires across Derby in late 2020. Johnny Brady was tracked down by detectives after three months of incidents that left two schools and a Grade 1-listed church destroyed. The first two incidents took place within two days of each other, with the first fire gutting St Mary’s Catholic School on Saturday 3 October and the second destroying the Ravensdale Infant School on Monday 5 October.

There then followed four incidents between 6 October and 16 October where fires were set at the Orangery Café in Markeaton Park, St Mathew’s Church in Darley Abbey, Mackworth Community Centre and at St Paul’s Church in Quarndon, subsequently causing minor damage to the buildings involved.

The final attack took place at All Saints Church in Mackworth. The building, which was largely built in the 14th and 15th Centuries, was destroyed by the fire that was started by Brady on the afternoon of Thursday 3 December.

Superintendent Sarah McAughtrie, who led policing in the city at the time of the arson attacks, said: “The series of fires had an enormous impact on the Derby community and left those who live in the city in real fear. As a parent, I know what schools mean to children and the destruction of two much-loved buildings was a huge loss to everyone involved with them. It also further disrupted the education of many pupils at a time when they were just returning to a sense of normality after the previous months of home schooling. The only fortunate part of this devastating series of arson attacks was that, miraculously, nobody was seriously hurt in the fires, but that was certainly more due to luck than judgement.”

Limited leads

The first six incidents left the investigation team with limited leads but, through CCTV trawls of images from the half dozen sites, they knew the perpetrator was using a bike or a scooter to travel to and from the attacks.

The breakthrough for the case came when an officer was sent to take a statement following the sixth blaze at St Paul’s Church in Quarndon, where fire damage had been discovered. As the officer finished taking a statement from the vicar, Brady appeared at the churchyard and, after giving an implausible reason for being at the location of the suspected arson attack, was arrested.

A subsequent search of the (then) 17-year-old’s house led to the discovery of a mountain bike and an e-scooter, as well as a phone and a computer.

Forensic analysis

Digital forensics experts reviewed the computer and found that Brady had made Internet searches following each of the incidents – hunting for news items and social media posts about fires in the areas – just hours after the fires themselves had been set.

Detectives then spent painstaking hours reconstructing CCTV images of the bike seen in the areas of the arson incidents using the mountain bike that had been seized from his home, with specific details of Brady’s bike matching the one seen on footage from the nights of the arson incidents.

With Brady released on police bail, and the investigation ongoing, no further arson incidents linked to Brady took place until the afternoon of Thursday 3 December when a fire engulfed the All Saints Church in Mackworth.

Brady was immediately visited by officers due to the similar circumstances of the previous incidents and he was arrested wearing the same grey hooded top and black trousers as a figure captured walking towards the church less than two hours before the fire was discovered.

Sentencing decision

After admitting setting all seven fires as well as a further charge of burglary in relation to damage caused to the science room at Murray Park School on 1 October 2020, Brady was handed a Hospital Order under the Mental Health Act 1987.

McAughtrie stated: “The final fire set by Brady at the All Saints Church in Mackworth again robbed a community of a focal point that had a special place in peoples’ hearts. From weddings to funerals and christenings to carol concerts, the church was a place of real meaning for people.”

In addition, McAughtrie observed: “The overwhelming evidence that was presented to Brady meant that he had no other option than to plead guilty to the offences. That guilty plea is testament to the outstanding work undertaken by the investigation team. The sentence passed ensures that members of the public are safe and that Brady will receive the help he needs.”

Impact of the fires

Clive Stanbrook, area manager for the Derbyshire Fire and Rescue Service, noted: “The impact of the fires set by Brady will be remembered by the communities affected for many years to come. Despite the best efforts of the firefighters in attendance, St Mary’s School, the Ravensdale Infants School and All Saints Church were destroyed, in turn affecting the education of hundreds of school children and taking away a place of worship that sat at the heart of the Mackworth community.”

Stanbrook also said: “I would like to acknowledge the work of our police colleagues for their meticulous investigation that was able to identify and arrest Brady before any further fires were set, ensuring the safety of our communities. The hope is that this sentencing will serve as a deterrent to others.”

In conclusion, Stanbrook affirmed: “As has been evidenced in this case, deliberate fire setting has a devastating impact on communities, so I would like to take this opportunity to remind people that, if they ever have information about any deliberate fire setting in their area, they can report it 100% anonymously to the independent charity FireStoppers by calling 0800 169 5558 or accessing the website at www.firestoppersreport.co.uk”

Full list of fires and dates

*St Mary’s Catholic School – 3 October 2020

*Ravensdale Infant and Nursery School – between 4 October and 6 October 2020

*Orangery Café – 6 October 2020

*St Mathew’s Church – 15 October 2020

*Mackworth Community Centre – between 14 October and 16 October 2020

*St Paul’s Church – between 14 October and 16 October 2020

*All Saints Church – 3 December 2020