A New Year drunk made persistent attempts to start a fire at a petrol station which had the potential to have “devastating consequences” after his early release from jail, a court heard today .
More than 68,000 litres of fuel were stored in underground tanks at the filling station where repeat offender Jason Wilson carried out his crime with homes and a large hotel nearby.
Wilson (25) tried to unsuccessfully ignite residual petrol in hoses at the pumps at the garage which had closed for business and started a fire in a bin.
At one stage he returned to the premises smoking a cigarette and tried to insert it into one of the nozzles.
Advocate depute David Taylor told the High Court in Edinburgh: “Because of modern security equipment it is difficult to set fire to a petrol station with a lit cigarette or to set fire to the premises in such a way as to cause underground fuel reserves to be ignited.”
“But had the fire taken hold and generated a significant blaze spreading to the forecourt canopy and each of the pumps it could potentially have reached the underground tanks with devastating consequences,” he said.
The prosecutor said that if gas cylinders at the site had been exposed to a rapid increase in heat or direct flames it could lead to an explosion scattering hot metal debris over a large area.
He said: “Given the considerable amount of combustible materials present _ petrol, diesel, gas cylinders, firelighters, BBQ lighter fluid, paraffin _ such a fire would have caused nearby properties to be threatened by fire spread, smoke and toxic fumes and a danger of explosion and the need for evacuation.”
The advocate depute added: “Any firefighter called to deal with any conflagration which had arisen from such an incident would themselves have been exposed to considerable risk.”
Unemployed Wilson was caught on CCTV footage going round the petrol pumps and trying to empty them on the ground.
Mr Taylor said: “Throughout the incident the accused appeared extremely drunk, having difficulty walking and maintaining his footing.”
Wilson admitted culpable and reckless conduct by placing a fuel nozzle in a bin and deliberately setting fire to the bin, putting a lit cigarette in a nozzle and pushing over a cage containing gas canisters to the danger of the public on January 1 this year at Malthurst Fuels, at Dean Road, Bo’ness, West Lothian.
The court heard that Wilson had 32 previous convictions and in July last year was sentenced to nine months imprisonment for vandalism, police assault and threatening behaviour. He was released weeks before his latest crime.
Wilson, of no fixed abode, has previously been jailed for culpable and reckless conduct for throwing a four-year-old boy out of a window and for fire raising when he set fire to a victim’s hair and the door of a public toilet.
Mr Taylor said the filling station had been closed for the evening on Hogmanay and the fuel pumps were closed off and secured.
But in the early hours of the morning a member of the public rang police saying a man in dark clothing was throwing petrol hoses about on the forecourt.
Officers found Wilson near the garage and he told them he had “smashed up the petrol station”. They could see nozzles lying about but no obvious damage. Wilson was detained and found to have a lighter.
But when the manager arrived later that morning he reviewed CCTV footage which revealed the extent of Wilson’s actions.
He was seen to drag a bin over to a pump and tried to empty diesel nozzles into it. He did the same with a petrol nozzle and left it in the bin and then used a lighter to set fire to the contents.
Wilson ran off but the fire went out and he returned and tried to insert a lit cigarette into a petrol nozzle.
Police later charged Wilson with culpable and reckless conduct and he told them: “That’s a whopper. It’s a load of shite.”
Fire investigation officers was asked to review the incident to identify “the risks to life, limb and property that it created”.
Mr Taylor said: “They noted that while several attempts were made unsuccessfully to ignite the residual petrol present in the hoses at the pumps, the fire that was started within the metal waste bin adjacent to one of the pumps sustained a flame for a short period of time.”
If the bin had held more rubbish it could have spread to the pump with other items on the forecourt getting caught up.
“As heat rises, more items involved in the fire would result in the flames gaining height and applying considerable heat to the overhead canopy which ultimately could have become involved in the fire,” said the prosecutor.
Defence counsel Derick Nelson said that while Wilson has been held in Glasgow’s Barlinnie prison he has been in touch with the mental health team.
The judge, Lord Brailsford, said: “I am delighted to hear that modern-day petrol stations don’t go on fire very easily.”
He deferred sentence on Wilson for reports and ordered he be remanded in custody.