A 26-year-old man who set fire to a vintage carriage at the Dean Forest Railway – causing £45,000 worth of damage – has been sentenced to a suspended one year jail term.

At Gloucester Crown Court last week prosecutor Ieuan Callaghan said that on March 24 2022 emergency services were called at 6.45pm to a fire at Lydney Junction.

Gloucestershire Fire and Rescue Service had responded to the blaze and requested the presence of the police, Mr Callaghan said.

One railway carriage which was awaiting restoration was ablaze, and was close to nine other carriages.

When the emergency services arrived the large carriage structure was collapsing and smoke was billowing across to the main railway network, which triggered emergency signalling warning train drivers to slow to a crawl – causing delays on the commuter network, said Mr Callaghan.

“The police officers searching the site found that a digger had been tampered with and three people, two men and a woman, were hiding under a canopy. When they were told to come out from underneath it, they duly complied,” he said.

Paul Irving, of Steel Avenue, Lydney, appeared from under the canopy and threatened that he would smash the police officer’s head but he was then restrained.

“All three occupants were arrested and taken into custody. No further action has been taken against the other two people.”

In a statement to police Irving explained that he had found a can of red diesel and poured it over the carriage. He had used his own lighter to set it alight, he stated.

Irving told the police that within minutes of the fire starting the emergency services were on the scene and he decided to hide – an action which, he said, was his ‘normal practice.’

He claimed that he had been encouraged to commit arson by the man who was with him.

The court was told that initially Kayleigh Toomey, 28, had admitted responsibility for the arson – but her confession was later rejected following Irving’s statement.

Alan Dickinson, chairman of Dean Forest Railway, told the court that the cost of repairing the fire damage amounted to £45,000.

Lawyer Simon Kitchen, for Irving, said: “Irving pleaded guilty at the earliest opportunity, during his police interview. This offence occurred some 19 months ago and he has stayed out of trouble since then.

“Irving is a man who is easily led and it was somebody else’s suggestion that the carriage was set on fire. After initially refusing, he reluctantly obliged. Irving is a vulnerable man who has mental health issues. The three of them had gone for a walk and found themselves inside the yard.”

Judge Ian Lawrie KC interjected: “This was a piece of mindless vandalism against a charitable organisation that he indulged in. 

“He entered the carriage, which was somebody else’s property, where they shouldn’t have been in the first place, and set fire to it.”

Mr Kitchen continued: “There is no valid reason or explanation as to why he carried out the arson. But he does suffer from anxiety, paranoia and post-traumatic stress disorder.

“As a child the only way he could protect himself was not to stand up for himself and hide away. He has continued this into his adulthood.”

Judge Lawrie sent Irving down to the court’s cells below the dock to reflect on his offending and to contemplate his future. After a couple of hours in the smallest cell, Irving told the judge: “I feel gutted about what I did.”

Irving admitted arson – damaging carriages owned by Dean Forest Railway by fire, either intending to destroy or damage them or being reckless whether they would be destroyed or damaged, on March 24, 2022.

Judge Lawrie told Irving: “You were somewhere where you shouldn’t have been. You appeared to have nothing better to do. The damage you caused will cost the organisation some £45,000 to repair, far more than the planned restoration costs.

“I accept you have mental health issues but this offence crosses the custody threshold and therefore this will be a prison term of 12 months, but it will be suspended for two years.”

The judge ordered that Irving attend 30 programme sessions and undertake 200 hours of unpaid work and attend monthly judicial reviews.

The judge concluded: “If you feel you are faltering, cast your mind back to the couple of hours in the cells because that could be your life if you don’t take this opportunity to turn it around. “