Jail for arsonists behind fire that destroyed Sandhill Park stately home
Four men have been sentenced for an arson which partially destroyed a once grand country house in Somerset.
Grade II*-listed Sandhill Park at Bishops Lydeard, near Taunton, was built around 1720 and had an illustrious history as a private home, a prisoner of war camp and military and civilian hospitals.
Rebuilding it could cost up to £10 million, Taunton Crown Court was told yesterday.
The house is considered particularly important because of its interior ornamental Rococo plasterwork, especially in the entrance hall.
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At 3.02am on November 22, 2011, the fire service received a report that the building was on fire. It took crews from six fire engines to fight the blaze until around 2.30pm that afternoon, and cost Devon & Somerset Fire and Rescue £30,000. An investigation led to the arrest of four young men within days.
In December 2011, the four pleaded guilty to arson. Yesterday, Marcus Tancock, aged 20, of Tamar Road, Weston-super-Mare, was jailed for 27 months, Nathan Goldfinch, also 20, of Knightstone Road, Weston, was given 18 months, and 23-year-old Stuart Walter, of Slade Lane, Weston, was jailed for 12 months, while Liam Grant, aged 19, formerly of Cheddar, was given 21 months.
The court was told Tancock climbed on to the flat roof of the east wing and started the fire while Grant and Goldfinch acted as lookouts and Walter was their driver.
Tancock had previously pleaded guilty to dangerous driving in Locking Road, Weston, and was disqualified for 12 months. Grant was also sentenced for two offences of fraud and breach of a conditional discharge for making off without payment from a petrol station.
The judge said Walter’s sentence was reduced by his early plea of guilty and to reflect his co-operation with the police.
Grade II*-listed buildings account for only 5.5 per cent of all listed buildings and Sandhill Park was already on English Heritage’s at-risk register because of its deteriorating condition and lack of beneficial use. Its plight was made significantly worse by the fire which has totally destroyed the roof structure of the main range and east wing of the house.
In passing the sentence, the judge took into account an impact statement from English Heritage.
Speaking after the sentencing, investigating officer Detective Constable Kevin Pellow said: “This was a catastrophic attack on a house which has played a significant part in the history of Bishops Lydeard. These four men planned the fire and went to Sandhill Park intent on setting fire to the building. I am certain these men knew what they were doing and the impact their actions would have.
“This fire was thoroughly investigated and all four people responsible were arrested within a week. Today they must finally face up to their actions and I hope that their situation makes others think twice about setting fires deliberately.”
Veryan Heal, acting planning and conservation director at English Heritage in the South West, added: “Sandhill Park is a precious piece of the nation’s heritage that could have easily suffered total destruction as a result of this arson attack.”
She said it remains uncertain whether the exquisite ornate 18th century plaster ceilings inside the house can be saved and added: “People who target historic buildings are threatening a unique part of the country’s heritage and it is only right that this is taken into account when they are brought to justice.
“We are working to raise awareness of heritage crime in its various forms, and we are pleased that the judge has taken account of the wider cultural impact in his sentencing. We hope that this may serve as a deterrent to others who have little respect for England’s built heritage.”