A troubled Hove artist set fire to a £350,000 lorry at a steelworks because of a years-long grudge against the owners, a court heard.
Oliver Dawson, 49, set up ladders to escape over the fence at Neil’s Steels in Shoreham Port before laying a trail of petrol-soaked rags leading to the lorry.
He then lit the rags and hopped over the fence, leaving the lorry and its 30ft crane to burn. Emergency services were called to the blaze shortly after 9.30pm on Friday, 7 January.
When CCTV was examined, employees recognised Dawson jumping over the fence to set the fire – and the camera had also filmed him in the early hours of the same morning, when he had smashed one of their van’s windscreens.
He had previously been charged with harassing them in 2015, although that charge was dropped in favour of criminal damage in relation to faeces being spread on owner Neil Dermott’s car.
On Thursday, February 2, Dawson appeared at Hove Crown Court at a sentencing hearing, having pleaded guilty to arson at a previous hearing.
Prosecuting, Charlotte Bégué said: “The Scania lorry was completely burned when [Neil’s son] Glenn Dermott arrived on the premises.
“CCTV showed Dawson entering over the fence a second time and setting up two ladders.
“He laid rags from the lorry to the other side of the yard and set fire to the trail.
“He then escaped using the ladders.
“He was arrested at home and told police this is what I was wearing at the time and the lighter should be somewhere.”
Dawson then made no comment at interview, and shortly afterwards he was sectioned under the Mental Health Act. He has been treated at various mental hospitals since and is now living at one in Chichester.
In a victim impact statement read out in court, Neil Dermott said Dawson had been responsible for disturbances around their workshop in 2015, which had led him to be concerned for his family’s wellbeing.
The crane lorry which Dawson torched had been the largest in the south east, and had been leased to customers for the past ten years.
After it was destroyed, the firm had to lay off four members of staff, and Mr Dermott had to remortgage his house to raise the funds to buy another.
In total, the first was out of pocket by £500,000, including the cost of lost contracts and insurance.
He said: “I’m also concerned for my family’s wellbeing … my family, including my two sons and five grandsons, now have a 24-hour alarm and security patrol.”
The history behind Dawson’s grudge against the architectural steel company were not disclosed in court.
In 2015, Dawson was given a restraining order forbidding him from contacting Mr Dermott or anyone connected with the company for a year.
Ms Bégué requested a similar, indefinite restraining order.
Defending, Mr Gregory asked for an adjournment for psychiatric reports to be prepared, adding that at the time of the attack, he had been suffering a relapse, possibly related to cocaine use.
The judge, RecorderJohn Trevaskis, agreed, and Dawson will now sentenced on Monday, 6 March.