Angry 22-year-old Waqas Ali bought £10 worth of petrol from a nearby filling station before dousing the rear cellar door at Waj’s Fast Food on Manchester Road in Bradford and setting it alight last August.
Ali, of Donisthorpe Street, West Bowling, Bradford, claimed later that he had been owed unpaid wages of £75 for three days work at the takeaway and his intention had been to “get back” at the owner.
But Bradford Crown Court heard yesterday (Tuesday 16 July) that a couple and their child had been in the flat above the takeaway when Ali started the blaze at about 5am.
Prosecutor Philip Adams said the family became aware of the fire shortly after it started and fortunately they were able to leave the flat safely and without injury.
The takeaway owner arrived at the premises along with the fire service and a crew was able to put out the blaze which had caused extensive damage to the shop and its basement.
Mr Adams said the premises were shut for four months and the damage estimated at about £30,000.
He referred Judge Jonathan Rose to photographs of the scene and described the kitchen area as being “gutted” by the blaze.
The takeaway owner viewed CCTV from the area and identified Ali who was caught on camera walking down an alleyway holding a petrol canister.
The court heard that there had been a dispute over some wages when Ali left his employment a few months before the arson attack.
Ali, who had no previous convictions, pleaded guilty to a charge of arson being reckless as to whether life would be endangered and today he was jailed for four years and two months.
But Judge Rose also imposed an extended licence period of three years after deciding that Ali posed a high risk of serious harm to members of the public.
Mr Adams said the crime had been “a revenge attack” and it had been committed at night which increased the risk of the fire spreading and going undetected.
Barrister Stephen Wood, for Ali, said he had expressed remorse not just for what he did but for also for the potential consequences of what he did.
Judge Rose told Ali that there was no such thing as “a little arson”.
“Once a fire is lit you have absolutely no control over it and it’s often a measure of good fortune, of luck, that distinguishes between a case of simple arson, just lighting a fire, and murder,” said the judge.
“It is so easy to lose control of even a small fire so that lives are put at risk and ended in the most horrible, horrible way.”
The judge said the fact that Ali was prepared to risk such death over “a trifling amount of money” was appalling and deeply worrying.
Judge Rose said he did not accept that Ali did not know there were people in the flat above the takeaway and said he had given no thought to their lives.
“You were not looking at a small fire in any event,” the judge told Ali.
“You were looking at a grand gesture of destruction by buying the petrol.”
The judge said it was entirely fortunate that the occupants of the flat woke up before the fire took sufficient hold to prevent them making an escape.