AN arsonist who smiled whilst he caused a series of devastating fires has been jailed for five years.

Christopher Parker set fire to two vans, Harwich railway station, and the LV18 lightship in February, with firefighters battling the blazes until 4am the following morning.

The cost of the damage to the LV18 lightship is believed to be £250,000 after fires were started in four different locations of the vessel.

Parker, 34 was spoken to by police at the scene of the fire on Friday, February 2, but he was not arrested.

After police used CCTV images to identify Parker as a suspect, officers searched his address in Alexandra Road, Harwich, where they found lighters in his bedroom and a fire accelerant in his kitchen.

He was arrested and later admitted three counts of arson before being sentenced at Chelmsford Crown Court on Friday.

The court heard how Parker first targeted two Mercedes Sprinter vans at 7pm in Station Approach, Harwich, and was described by a witness as “smiling and looking as if he was enjoying watching the fire”.

Parker then targeted Harwich railway station, kicking in the door to the level crossing room and starting two fires which spread up the cladding and timber framework.

At 9pm, Parker set fire to the LV18 lightship, which was described by Jack Coyne, prosecuting, as “of national significance to the maritime community and was the life’s work of owner Tony O’Neil”.

The burning LV18 lightship at HarwichThe burning LV18 lightship at Harwich (Image: Public)

A victim impact statement, read on Mr O’Neil’s behalf, told the court how £600,000 had been given in grants to support the LV18 lightship, and that he had spent 24 years working on the project.

Mr O’Neil’s wife, Heather O’Neil, read a victim impact statement to the court and told Parker how he had destroyed “the most beautiful ship”.

She said: “I cannot measure the grief I feel because of what he has done.

“This has been scary and difficult to deal with whilst trying to restore some normality to my life in the light of such destruction.

“I feel my life has been turned upside down by the actions of Parker.

“My husband and I feel like two people constantly swimming against the tide, trying to put right what Parker has done.”

His Honour Judge Richard Wilkin said: “Nobody could be failed to be moved by the profound impact your twisted actions have had on Mr and Mrs O’Neil.”

Parker was jailed for five years.

Damage came to £360,000, court told

AN arsonist caused more than £360,000 of damage when he set fire to vans, a train station, and an historic lightship, a court has heard.

Christopher Parker was sentenced at Chelmsford Crown Court on Friday after he admitted three counts of arson.

His Honour Judge Richard Wilkin told Parker, of Alexandra Street, Harwich, he did not believe the defendant’s excuse that he was suicidal when he started the fires.

He said: “I accept you have poor mental health and that you use alcohol as a coping mechanism.

“You explain your actions were a cry for help and you intended to commit suicide, but your actions at the scene were at odds with such an intention.

“You were seen to be watching and smiling and didn’t volunteer to police you were the culprit.”

Parker, 34, started the first fire at 7.22pm on Friday, February 2 and emergency services were on the scene until 4am the following morning.

The fires destroyed two Mercedes Sprinters to the value of £25,000 and caused £6,500 of damage to a nearby garage in Station Approach.

The court was told it would take £79,000 to repair Harwich train station and a further £250,000 to repair the LV18 lightship.

The cost of the damage came to around £360,500.