A MAN has appeared in court accused of causing a gas explosion which put the lives of a community at risk.
Michael Casey, 48, is charged with arson as to recklessly endanger life and burglary with intent following an explosion at a house in Sheriff Street, in Hartlepool, on Friday.
Hartlepool Magistrates’ Court heard that the arson charge can only be dealt with at crown court, and Casey will next appear at Teesside Crown Court this Thursday in connection with the charges.
Casey is accused of trying to steal copper piping at the empty end-terraced house, which the court heard is used as a “drugs den”.
It is alleged a boiler in the kitchen had been tampered with and pipework leading to the gas meter was cut, which led to a fire in the roof and then the explosion.
Prosecuting, Lilian Atkinson told the court how witnesses described seeing smoke coming from the roof of the house and could hear banging coming from inside the property.
She said two men kicked the front door three times until it opened and a man carrying a pair of bolt-croppers fled the scene.
Magistrates were told that witnesses saw a second male running from the property and one witness said he saw metal casing on the boiler was damaged.
Casey, of Milton Road, Hartlepool, appeared in custody wearing a white T-shirt, and did not enter a plea to the alleged offences.
He spoke only to confirm his personal details and said “bye-bye” to the court as he was led to cells after magistrates remanded him in custody.
Around 80 residents and elderly people from the nearby Albany Court sheltered complex were evacuated from the street and a 150ft cordon was put up, while nearby Tankerville Street and Thornville Road were closed to traffic.
Residents were eventually allowed to return to their homes around three hours after the lunchtime blast once the area had been made safe by the emergency services.
Sandra Stamp, 44, needed medical treatment after being showered with glass after windows at the house were blown out.