TWO would-be metal thieves who sparked a house explosion that showered a passing neighbour with glass are today behind bars.
Career criminal Michael Casey, 48, and Luke Gofton, 19, caused the blast after they cut through a gas pipe as they tried to steal a boiler from the empty house in Sheriff Street, Hartlepool.
Gas which had escaped ignited after Gofton hunted around in the loft and lit a piece of paper in order to see.
A fire in the attic quickly took hold and both Casey and Gofton fled the burning house while concerned residents gathered outside.
Moments later, an explosion ripped through the building, showering Sandra Stamp, 44, with glass.
A police corden was quickly set up and residents were evacuated from their homes.
Both men were locked up when they appeared at Teesside Crown Court yesterday.
Casey, who fled the scene on a bike carrying a pair of bolt croppers, admitted burglary on August 5.
Gofton, then just 18, pleaded guilty to burglary and arson being reckless as to whether life would be endangered.
John Gillette, prosecuting, said: “Residents saw smoke coming from the roof of the house and they rang 999.”
He said residents tried to get inside, but smelled gas, before an explosion showered Mrs Stamp in glass and left her with numerous cuts to her face and neck.
She was treated at One Life Hartlepool before being allowed home later that day.
The court heard how Gofton, of Flint Walk, Hartlepool, was approached by Casey at Hartlepool Magistrates’ Court earlier that day and offered Gofton £75 to help him with the burglary.
Mr Gillette added: “Gofton accepted at Casey’s behest he went up to the attic and whilst up there the electricity went off and he couldn’t see.
“As a result he lit a fire to see what was up there, and that got out of control.”
Peter Makepeace, mitigating, said in the six weeks leading up to the incident, he had started drinking heavily and taking up to 20 valium tablets a day.
He said Gofton was “picked up by someone who is obviously a full-time career criminal and of senior age and experience.”
Mr Makepeace described the consequences as “terrible” and appealed for the sentence to be suspended, but Gofton was given two and a half years in a youth detention centre.
Homeless Casey, previously of Baden Street, Hartlepool, was jailed for 18 months.
His barrister Robin Denny said it was “a pathetic attempt” to steal metal to pay for drugs.
Judge George Moorhouse said: “The courts have to protect members of the public from that kind of behaviour, even if it is out of character.”
He told Gofton: “You were very stupid. I accept once the fire got going you tried to put it out, and you have shown remorse, but having said that the offence is so serious for a period in a young offenders’ institution.”