Hugh Billington Jailed For Driving Fuel Tanker Through Wife’s House, British Army Vet Says He’s ‘Sorry’

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By IBTimes Staff Reporter | May 1, 2012 3:16 AM EST

Hugh Billington, a British man who drove a fuel tanker into his estranged wife's house causing it to set fire, has been sentenced to seven years in jail.

Billington, a British Army veteran, drove a fuel tanker filled with 528 gallons of kerosene through the front of the house on January 20, reported the Associated Press.

Billington, 51 pleaded guilty to arson, dangerous driving, assault, and theft. He was sentenced at Dorchester Crown Court Monday.

His wife, Christine Billington, had taken a restraining order out against him after allegations of domestic violence. He was out on bail at the time of the incident.

Billington's wife was in the kitchen when the tanker crashed into the house. She jumped out of a back window and ran to a neighbor's house.

When the trailer failed to ignite a fire after the crash, Billington sprayed kerosene around the property and switched on the gas hob in the kitchen, according to the Guardian, causing 4 fires inside the house and around the fuel tanker.  He told the court that he checked to make sure the bungalow was empty before doing so. He denied the arson charge with intent to endanger life at Court.

He fled the scene and assaulted an off-duty special constable, Trevor Knott, who attempted to stop him.

Darren Fletcher, a motorist passing by, leapt into action to help. He reversed the tanker away from the house and attempted to put out the flames. Neighbors gathered to extinguish the flames as best they could.

His lawyer, Timothy Shorter, defended his client's actions, saying "something snapped" after the British army veteran's 30-year marriage broke up.

Shorter said his client acted out in "folly, stupidity, and anger." Shorter called the crash "a futile act of revenge."

Prosecutor Jennie Rickman, the lawyer for Billington's wife, said in a statement that "it is clear that this was a very traumatic incident for Mrs. Billington who continues to suffer the effects of the events of that day, the loss of her home and the majority of her personal possessions. I hope that following the conclusion of this case Mrs. Billington can now start to rebuild her life," reported the Dorset Echo.

Rickman summarized how the event occurred on January 20.

"At 8.30 a.m. a witness saw the tanker being driven in an erratic manner," she said according to the Guardian.

"Some time at about 8.45 a.m. Mrs. Billington was at home and she heard an almighty crash. She went to see what had happened and could see through the front of her house. The tanker had come through the front of her house and made a hole in the wall. She ran out of the kitchen, over the fence and into a neighbor's home from where the police were contacted. The defendant went into the property and set fires in rooms of the house and it was apparent that an accelerant was used, most likely to have been kerosene."

It took more than 30 firefighters to tackle the blaze at the bungalow. The damage to the house was estimated at $382,086 (£235,000).  

Billington planned to kill himself after the incident. A note saying goodbye to his two children was found at his work. Police found him wandering around a few hours later.

However Judge Roger Jarvis said Billington had been lucky no one had been hurt in the crash and he had been acting "wickedly irresponsible."

"If the valves (of the tanker) had been fully open it would have been the most enormous bomb," said Judge Jarvis at the trial." People were walking around and about, including children. What you did was wickedly irresponsible."

Shorter said his client was "remorseful" for his actions.

"He is someone who his whole life has been a leader of men and is someone that people looked up to. He knows what he did that day was thoroughly and ashamedly wrong and he knows it could have led to something worse. To put it bluntly he is very, very sorry for what happened that day," Shorter said according to the Independent. He added that at least Billington had the "common decency" to check if the house was empty before setting fire to it.

Billington also confessed to stealing a suit and a shirt the same day.

Billington served the British army for more than 25 years. He left with "exemplary conduct."

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