Kent

Maidstone shops fire: Accused cleared as trial collapses

Remains of the bookshop in Week Street following the fire
Image caption Fifteen fire engines were sent to the scene at the height of the blaze in Week Street

A man accused of starting a blaze that caused an estimated £5m of damage to shops has been cleared of arson after the case against him collapsed.

The fire in June gutted The Works bookshop in Week Street, Maidstone, and damaged several other properties.

Jurors at Maidstone Crown Court were ordered to find Adam Stajer, 21, not guilty of arson with intent after new evidence emerged.

The Slovakian national had always denied the charge.

He had been accused by the prosecution of flicking a cigarette on to bags of rubbish and cardboard boxes left outside the three-storey bookshop as he made his way home in the early hours of 8 June.

But the court was told a witness, traced on Tuesday, saw the fire burning before Mr Stajer was spotted in the area but did not report the blaze as the witness heard sirens and thought it was already being dealt with.

Judge Julian Smith directed the jury to return a not guilty verdict after the new evidence came to light.

During the trial, Mr Stajer admitted being in Week Street at the time of the fire but denied starting the blaze and the charge of causing arson with intent.

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