Five years for sheep costume arson

A MAN who set fire to a university student's sheep costume for "a laugh" but left him scarred for life has been jailed for five years.

Stuart Mitchell ran out of the Headingley Taps pub in Leeds with his cotton wool fancy dress outfit in flames after Jason Whatley flicked his cigarette lighter at him in the crowded pub on October 17 last year.

In excruciating pain, the student desperately jumped a wall and rolled on the ground to put the flames out.

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He was later found to have 12 per cent burns to his body and underwent two separate skin graft operations.

Whatley, 39, of Fareham, Hampshire admitted arson being reckless whether life was endangered.

Leeds Crown Court heard yesterday he was visiting Leeds for a reunion and had drunk about eight pints of lager before he and friends arrived at the pub where Mr Mitchell, a second-year student at Leeds University, was out with friends dressed in their home-made sheep outfits, consisting of cotton wall balls glued on to Lycra tights and tops.

Abdul Iqbal, prosecuting, said Whatley was seen standing near the students and as he went by he flicked his lighter at Mr Mitchell, telling police later "I was trying to get a laugh, I don't know what I was thinking".

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"It seems because of the nature of the clothing Mr Mitchell was wearing the whole of the clothing became alight very quickly."

The court was shown CCTV footage of the student as ran from the pub closely followed by Whatley and his group who did nothing to help and one of whom was laughing.

Mr Iqbal said: "As he was running to the car park, he says the fire was on his back and he could feel and see flames shooting past his shoulders on to his front, his arms and legs, spreading across his body, leading to excruciating pain." He also described being able to smell his own hair burning which was particularly distressing for him.

Mr Iqbal said the victim was first taken to Leeds General Infirmary and later transferred to the burns unit at Pinderfields Hospital, Wakefield, where he spent about three weeks and had two lots of skin grafts with the deepest burns being to his ankles.

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As a result of his injuries he had to relinquish his place at university and was facing the financial burden of having to repay 6,615 tuition fees.

When arrested, Whatley initially denied knowing he had set anybody alight

Derek Duffy, representing him, said his actions were "foolish" but he'd had no malice or intention to harm anyone. It was accepted it was a joke that went wrong "very dramatically and tragically wrong". Whatley was visibly shaking throughout the case and Mr Duffy said he felt true remorse. His wife was expecting their first child next month and had recently also been diagnosed with an illness.

Jailing Whatley, Judge Kerry Macgill said: "For anyone to think that setting a fire or light against someone's clothing is a laughing matter beggars belief.

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"You are a man of 39 not a young kid who doesn't know what fire can do.

"While you were not to know he would go up in flames as he did, you stood idly by and let him burn and that is wicked in my view."

The judge said Whatley's unidentified friend who had laughed at Mr Mitchell's plight should hang his head in shame, as should Whatley.

The judge said he hoped the student's fees would be written off or paid by a benefactor.

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