Wales

Aberystwyth hotel fire: Man 'deliberately' began arson

Damion Harris Image copyright Damion Harris/Facebook
Image caption Damion Harris pleaded guilty to manslaughter

A man killed a hotel guest after setting fire to his hotel, by "deliberately" lighting curtains and a linen cupboard, a court has heard.

Damion Harris, 31, of Llanbadarn Fawr, admitted the manslaughter of Juozas Tunaitis, arson and inflicting grievous bodily harm.

Belgrave House Hotel in Aberystwyth, Ceredigion was burned down last July.

Prosecutor Michael Jones QC told the court Harris was "entirely responsible for setting fire to the hotel".

Image copyright Twitter/@MAWWChrisDavies
Image caption Many people jumped across balconies to escape to neighbouring properties

Mr Jones told Swansea Crown Court that Harris could be seen on the hotel's CCTV, at around 02:00 BST on 25 July "walking in through the front door of the hotel" and inspecting objects.

"[He was seen] propping the front door open with a plant pot," said Mr Jones.

The court heard Harris "deliberately set fire to the curtains on the ground floor" with a cigarette lighter.

Mr Jones said Harris then left the first blaze to start a "second deliberate fire in a cupboard in the underground basement".

The court was told this second fire, started in the hotel's linen cupboard, had been the "main cause" of the hotel's destruction.

The prosecution said Harris had been seen "stumbling" around Aberystwyth in the hours leading up to the fire, including at a pub and nightclub, having "clearly consumed some sort of intoxicant".

Image copyright CPS
Image caption A shell was all that remained of the hotel which was destroyed by the fire

The 16 guests in the hotel had been alerted to the blaze by the fire alarm system, according to Mr Jones.

Mr Tunaitis, 48, was staying in the hotel while working as a fire safety officer at Aberystwyth University.

The court heard Mr Tunaitis's colleagues, who managed to get out of the building, had tried to convince their co-worker to jump down onto a balcony below, but he disappeared back inside his room.

Mr Tunaitis's remains were identified by investigators through DNA tests almost two months later, on 10 September 2018.

Meanwhile another hotel guest Richard Simnett, who was on a family holiday, was "seriously injured" after falling from the building's roof, the court heard.

Image copyright Keith Morris
Image caption The Belgrave House Hotel was badly damaged in the blaze

Mr Simnett's family, including two boys aged four and five, had first tried to escape through the front door but were forced to flee to the roof.

The court heard Mr Simnett slipped while trying to help his partner up from a window and fell 11m (35ft) off the building.

But Mr Simnett stood up immediately after the fall - despite having suffered four fractured vertebrae and several broken ribs - because his "priority was for his children", the court heard.

His family were rescued by the fire service using a cherry picker crane.

Mr Jones told the court Harris was "entirely responsible" for the fire and "for the death of Mr Tunaitis and for the serious injuries to Mr Simnett".

Harris is due to be sentenced later this week.

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