AN ARSONIST asked his friend for a lighter then set fire to a stack of straw bales.

Matthew Robley, 28, told his friend earlier in the evening that he wanted to set fire to the bales as they drunk alcohol at Warren Farm, near Wroughton, on January 23.

Swindon magistrates were told yesterday that the friend was so concerned he took the lighter from the defendant.

Prosecutor Keith Ballinger said the man had returned the lighter after Robley asked for it so he could light a cigarette.

“When he’s given the lighter back he returns to the barn where hay bales are set on fire,” the prosecutor said.

At the time, Dorset and Wiltshire Fire and Rescue Service said that crews from Swindon, Stratton, Westlea and Royal Wootton Bassett fire stations were called to the scene. It took around three hours for the fire to be extinguished.

South West Farmer:

Pictures from the scene of the barn fire. Pictures: RWB FIRE STATION

The fire service said around five tonnes of baled straw was set alight. The justices heard on Tuesday that 10 bales were destroyed in the blaze, costing the farmer £400. The barn was not damaged.

The pair fled the scene, although Robley’s mother contacted police in the early hours of the next morning to say her son had done “something stupid”.

Robley, of Manor Close, Wroughton, pleaded guilty at an earlier hearing to arson being reckless as to whether property would be destroyed or damaged. He had no previous convictions to his name.

Charlotte Frizzell, mitigating, said her client suffered with poor mental health and continued to be assessed by specialists. He was not currently working.

Magistrates imposed an 18 month community order with a six month mental health treatment requirement and 20 rehabilitation requirement days. He must pay a £40 fine and £400 compensation.

Chairman of the bench Alison Auvray said: “We’ve heard a great deal about you, obviously, and a great deal about the offence. Looking at our sentencing guidelines this just tips into the custodial element. Having said that we’ve taken into account the fact this is the first offence, your personal mitigation and so we have come down to a community order.”