Arsonist jailed after starting catastrophic Ilkley Moor fire 'because he was cold'

JAILED: Mohammed Zulkifl.
JAILED: Mohammed Zulkifl.
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A man deliberately set fire to Ilkley Moor with 'catastrophic consequences' because he was cold, a court heard.

Mohammed Zulkifl, of Rufford Street, Bradford, was seen by council wardens setting fire to the grass with a cigarette at around 8pm on April 20.

The catastrophic fire at Ilkley Moor.

The catastrophic fire at Ilkley Moor.

He claimed he had done so because he was cold, but had then stamped out the fire, before fleeing the scene.

The 20-year-old was today sentenced to 27 months in a young offender's institute after pleading guilty to arson at Bradford Crown Court.

Prosecutor Jonathan Sharp explained how emergency services were already dealing with two critical blazes when Zulkifl committed his crime.

The first fire had started at 4pm that day.

Mr Sharp said: "The first fire was initially out of control and it was spreading towards residential accommodation in Ilkley.

"A critical incident was declared. Multiple fire engines, the police helicopter, and many police staff were deployed in attempts to get it under control."

Crews battled for several hours and eventually succeeded in holding the fire back.

Read more: Yorkshire man who deliberately set fire to Ilkley Moor to be sentenced on Thursday

But, at 7pm, the incident commander noticed a second seat of fire on the opposite side of the coppice which was spreading eastwards. The wind direction suggested that the second fire was not a product of the first and that a separate fire had been started.

Mr Sharp said; "For the avoidance of doubt, the evidence available does not allow the safe inference that this defendant was responsible for this second outbreak. However, it does demonstrate the extreme pressures on the emergency services. They were now dealing with two seats of fire. Any further setting of fires plainly and obviously increased the risk that the services would be overwhelmed and there would be even greater damage to the Moor, to property, and to life. It is in that context that the defendant falls to be sentenced."

Officers were deployed to keep the public away from the fires to allow emergency services to work.

It was around 8pm that council wardens were assisting in the process when they were approached by some concerned members of the public who pointed out three males - Zulkifl and two others.

Smoke was seen rising from the area where the group was standing.

Mr Sharp said: "As the wardens approached, they saw the defendant crouch down and set fire to the grass with his cigarette lighter. A fire started. The defendant stamped it out, but he then set fire to the grass a second time, and walked away as the fire began to take hold. The wardens began running towards them, all three males ran off as the wardens and several members of the public gave chase.

Read more: Moor fires increase as crews spell out the risks

"The males ran into the path of police officers on the moor, and were arrested."

Zulkifl admitted to the officers that he had started a fire and said he had done so because he was cold.

He claimed he had put it out, but later, in a formal interview he gave a 'no comment' response.

Mr Sharp said: "It would not be right to lay the blame for all the damage to the Moor on the defendant. That said, the court may wish to consider the extent of the damage when assessing the enormity of the task facing the emergency services and the danger that the defendant's activities posed."

In mitigation Kate Batty said Zulkifl did not intend for the fire to spread and that it was difficult to assess the damage caused by him alone.

She said his actions "lacked malice" but that he was "impulsive and immature".

Mrs Batty also asked for Zulkifl's previous good character to be taken into account.

She said: "He is young, and until these court proceedings he had been a hard working young man. He comes from a hard working family."

The court heard Zulkifl is in the bottom four per cent of the population, intellectually.

Mrs Batty said: "The defendant's understanding of the risks associated with the fire were limited."

Recorder of Bradford, Judge Jonathan Durham Hall QC described the fire as one of the "most distressing and upsetting" incidents.

Judge Hall QC acknowledged that Zulkifl did not start the first two fires on the Moor, but said that "for some stupid reason" the defendant started a third one, despite knowing the strains emergency services were already under.

He said: "This was an intentional act and there could have been catastrophic consequences. In fact, the whole of the arson has been catastrophic in its affect on the moor wildlife and so on.

"Anyone who starts a fire on moorland must be punished."