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Drunk paperboy, 64, set fire to newsagents home

Neil Hitchin Photo: Lancashire Police

A 64-year-old paperboy who deliberately set fire to his employers' house in a bid for revenge after his benefits were cut has been jailed.

Neil Hitchin poured flaming white spirit through the letterbox of Adrian and Caroline Watts’ home next to their newsagents in Waterfoot, Lancashire, while they were sleeping.

Hitchin had been working part-time for the couple for five years delivering newspapers, but failed to declare his earnings to the Department for Work and Pensioners, Burnley Crown Court heard.

Prosecutor Richard Archer said Hitchin was caught after Mr and Mrs Watts declared their employees earnings through their accounts and his benefits were slashed.

Hitchin initially planned to ‘fire bomb’ the job centre’ but then ‘switched his attentions and focus on the newsagents itself’.

The defendant, of Crabtree Avenue in Newchurch, Lancashire, pleaded guilty to arson being reckless as to whether life was endangered. He was jailed for 42 months and given an indefinite restraining order.

“The consequences could have been much more severe.

“This was an attack out of some form of revenge or ill-feeling given your benefits had been reduced.”

– Judge Jonathan Gibson
Adrian and Caroline Watts Credit: Manchester Evening News

Mrs Watts, who has run the newsagents on Burnley Road East with her husband since 1985, was left with painful bronchial spasm in her lungs caused by smoke inhalation.

In a victim statement, the president-elect of Rossendale Rotary Club said she was unable to walk through their front door ‘because it reminded her of the incident’ and she was not able to use her kitchen to make sandwiches to sell in the shop and to bring to her church.