A man has been found guilty of setting fire to a school in Rudheath, Northwich, stalking teachers working there and setting fire to a house as part of his personal crusade to ‘protect children’.
Phillip Day, of Saltash Close, Runcorn, was today [Tuesday 19 February] convicted of arson being reckless as to whether life was endangered, arson and two counts of stalking after a six-week trial at Chester Crown Court.
The 55-year-old was found not guilty of one count of burglary at the same trial.
The case dates back to 2010, when Day made unfounded allegations against a teacher from the University of Chester Academy Northwich (UCAN), which was formally known as Rudheath High School.
An investigation was carried out by the Cheshire Police Public Protection Directorate, but the claims were never substantiated.
Not satisfied with the outcome, and believing that there had been a cover-up, Day decided to launch a personal crusade in a bid to achieve his own justice.
Over the following years Day stalked the school and those working within it, specifically focusing on the headteacher and the teacher that he had made the original allegations against.
During this time he posted a number of messages and videos on social media naming the teacher – he also falsely claimed that children had been harmed at the academy.
Day went as far as warning parents against sending their children to the school as they were attending an open evening for prospective pupils.
His mission came to a head in the early hours of Sunday 25 February 2018, when he deliberately set fire to the school.
The roof of the building was set alight in 17 different locations – Day systematically removed roof tiles and pierced the felt before pouring petrol inside and lighting it.
He was seen by people living nearby calmly strolling around the school grounds carrying a jerrycan as the roof was on fire.
Two local residents took it upon themselves to locate Day as he left the site. They saw him running across a road outside the school before losing sight of him.
The couple then saw a red Volvo drive away from the scene and noted down the registration number. Police traced this vehicle as being registered to Day’s wife.
Day was later arrested in relation to the incident.
When he was arrested he was in possession of the keys to the car and the vehicle itself was located in a cul-de-sac near to his home.
Following his arrest, Day refused to answer any questions put to him by officers.
The fire caused extensive damage to the school – it is estimated the damage will cost in the region of £2.4 million to repair.
Following his arrest in Cheshire officers were contacted by colleagues at Essex Police, who wanted to speak to Day regarding a burglary and arson at a house in Essex.
The incident was linked to a case where Day again believed that there had been a miscarriage of justice, involving a woman.
Officers discovered that Day had contacted the woman over social media and started to have an affair with her.
After forming a relationship with her, Day decided to target a man involved in the same case.
On 31 December 2017 Day drove to the man’s home in Saffron Walden and set fire to the property.
He set 15 separate fires across the building, causing £1.6 million worth of damage.
Just hours after starting the fire Day posted on social media that his New Year’s resolution was to ‘work for children’.
Following today’s verdict, Detective Constable Paul Cundy, from Northwich CID, said: “This has been a complex and lengthy investigation focusing on a number of different elements.
“Day’s actions over an eight-year period were despicable. He decided to take the law into his own hands, causing millions of pounds worth of damage to a local school with no regard for the consequences.
“This had a significant impact on teachers and pupils, with the school being forced to close whilst alternative arrangements were made.
“Without the actions of local firefighters, who not only extinguished the fire but also managed to rescue many items – including valuable school work – from inside the building, the consequences could have been far worse.
“Day also waged a campaign against two teachers, causing them a lot of upset and distress.
“I hope that the guilty verdicts provides the victims with some closure and allows them to move on with their lives.
“I would like to thank all those involved in this case and acknowledge the help of the local community, who were key in identifying Day as a suspect.
“Thankfully, as a result of a thorough investigation by officers from Northwich Local Policing Unit, and in conjunction with Essex Police, Day is now facing the consequences of his actions and a long prison sentence.”
Paul Binyon, from Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service, added: “Day’s reckless actions put the lives of local residents and firefighters at considerable risk, whilst causing major disruption to children’s education, and we welcome today's guilty verdicts.
“Arson is a serious crime and the fire at the school in Northwich was one of the worst incidents I have ever had to deal with.
“When firefighters arrived at the scene the fire had already taken hold and the building was heavily smoke logged, including an on-site flat where the caretaker had been sleeping, who suffered inhalation of smoke when discovering the fire.
“At the height of the blaze there were more than 50 firefighters involved, along with 12 fire engines, two aerial platforms, a welfare unit, a command and control unit, a high-volume pump and a number of specialist officers.
“The crews that attended the incident worked tirelessly to bring the fire under control, and as a result of their hard work, and close liaison with the UCAN staff, they were able to limit the damage that was caused to the school.”
Day will be sentenced on Friday April 12.