A part-time firefighter who deliberately started a series of blazes so he could receive payments for being called out has been jailed for over five years.
David Pearson, 32, caused thousands of pounds worth of damage when he set fire to luxury cars and caravans while working as a retained firefighter.
A court heard he even targeted his police officer neighbour Bob Powell and set his BMW ablaze- following a dispute over his dogs barking.
Other arson attacks between June 29 and September 3 last year were carried out by Pearson and fellow fireman Kingsley Tolley, 36, for both “excitement” and “financial gain.”
The pair would then share WhatsApp messages and images as the vehicles went up in flames and joked how they “were living the dream.”
Tolley was found dead in a suspected suicide near his home in Albrighton, Shrops., on July 24 this year after being arrested.
Pearson, of Pontesbury, Shrops., was jailed for five years and four months after admitting conspiracy to destroy or damage property at a previous hearing.
Wearing a grey suit, purple shirt, and purple tie he wept and trembled in the dock as he was jailed at Shrewsbury Crown Court.
Sentencing, Judge Robin Onions said: “You don’t appear to have given a single thought to the risk you were exposing people to, either your colleagues, the public or the owners of the property which was destroyed.
“You never once tried to discourage Tolley from what he was doing.
“You tried to evade justice. You said you had to ‘live the dream’ but you’re not living the dream now, Mr Pearson.
“You joined Shropshire Fire and Rescue Service in 2013. You were a trusted firefighter employed to prevent fires, to put fires out. You abused the trust placed in you.
“You gained financially and we’re excited by what you and Tolley were doing. This was a conspiracy of equals.
“The public should not judge the fire service by the actions of two rogue fire fighters.
“The fire at Mr Powell’s property was the most serious.
“Clearly you must have discussed the fact with Tolley that you did not get on well and he knew he was a serving police officer.
“Mr Powell’s wife had just given birth and the children were exceptionally vulnerable.”
The court heard Tolley would start the fires and then report them anonymously so Pearson received a fee of around £15-per-hour for attending the scenes.
On September 2 last year, Tolley torched PC Powell’s car while it was parked on his driveway at 1.03am while his wife and week-old twin boys slept inside.
Pearson was a neighbour of Powell’s and his victim had previously been round to his house to complain about a barking dog at the property.
Tolley set fire to the petrol tank and sent messages and took pictures of the £16,500 car as it went up in flames.
Mr Powell was alerted to the fire by a neighbour and managed to escape unscathed with his family through a back door.
The pair were caught after police used an automatic recognition number plate system to place Pearson at the scene of a van fire on August 30.
The court heard this was another targeted attack on Pearson’s “best friend” and business partner who he believed owed him money.
Officers examined his phone and found a series of disturbing WhatsApp messages where they planned the series of attacks.
Prosecutor Robert Edwards said: “This case concerns arsons planned by the defendant and involved setting five fires substantial enough to require the fire brigade to come and extinguish them.
“What makes this case remarkable is throughout the conspiracy both defendants had volunteered to protect the public.
“The role of a retained firefighter is an important one and they receive the same training as full-time firefighters.
“They receive payment but the remuneration will never make them rich.”
“In September 2014, Shropshire Fire and Rescue Service contacted the police to report an unusually high frequency of deliberately caused fires.
“In 2012-13 to July 2014 there were no reported incidents but over a six-week period there had been ten incidents and in the third quarter of the year Pearson had attended 27 out of 27 shouts.
“He at least had some prior warning and there was some banter between colleagues about his much improved attendance.”
Mr Edwards read out a series of WhatsApp messages between the pair in which they bragged about their arson attacks.
In one Pearson said “Really want to do a caravan” to which Tolley said “Awesome” and Pearson replied: “Got to live the dream.”
Before setting fire to an Audi Tolley sent one message saying: ‘Audi TT. Rich b*stard.’ and prior to the arson attack on the police officer’s car he bragged ‘Copperr getting it’.
Mr Edwards added: “On August 30, 2014, Pearson was present when Tolley set fire to James Flavell’s van in Llanbrymair, Powys..
“It was parked in a layby near his house while Mr Flavell’s, his partner and their two children – aged two and eight – slept inside.
“Pearson had known Mr Flavell’s for over ten years and they had worked together. Mr Flavell’s described him as his ‘one time best friend’.
“He owed Mr Flavell some money.”
“They were not in regular contact but Pearson had messaged him on Facebook the previous day to ask wish him a happy birthday. It was a cynical and false wish.
“The fire was so intense it cracked the windows of the house. The van was burnt out and over £2,000 was caused in total.
“Nobody was injured but it caused the occupants significant distress.
“After the fire Pearson sent Tolley a message on WhatsApp saying: ‘Wales van, good job’.
“Pearson and Tolley were arrested on September 3 and their mobile phones were seized.”
Adrian Roberts, defending, said: “Mr Pearson was with Mr Tolley when he took his own life and he’s not coped well at all since.
“He didn’t have the strength of character to stand up to Mr Tolley, but he always thought he should tell the truth.
“There was a breach of trust but the purpose of what they did was to alert the fire service very quickly after a fire was started.”