Local historian Keith Johnson takes a look at compulsive arsonist who was jailed for life...
On the first day of September 1955 unemployed George Holden, aged 46, of Lambert Road in Preston appeared in court at Chorley accused of setting fire to barns at the Lancashire County Police HQ at Hutton and at the nearby Nutter’s Platt Farm.
Supt. W.H. Harrison told the court that at 8 o’clock the previous night it was noticed that a large quantity of baled hay in a barn at Nutter’s Platt Farm was on fire.
The fire brigade were called and the blaze was eventually extinguished after several bales had been burnt and the inside of the barn charred including wooden support pillars.
A search for the culprit was soon under way and shortly after 9 o’clock P.C. Kay was on motor patrol duty on Pope Lane in Penwortham when he spotted Holden about half a mile from the farm.
The constable stopped him, and after being questioned he admitted he had started the fire. When the accused was told he was being taken into custody he said: “I don’t know what makes me do it.”
Supt. Harrison then explained that the second charge was relative to a blaze on the previous Monday evening at the Hutton HQ in the mounted police section.
On that occasion a barn and an outbuilding were destroyed. According to P.C. Kay whilst taking Holden to the Penwortham Police Station he had said to him: “I did the Chief Constable’s buildings on Monday as well.” After brief discussions Holden was remanded in custody for a week until investigations were completed.
The next hearing was held at Leyland and by this time a further charge concerning a barn in a field off Kellet Lane, Bamber Bridge was added to the charge sheet.
Further evidence had been gathered regarding the Nutter’s Platt Farm blaze and it was stated that Holden had been in the Plough Inn at Penwortham prior to the blaze.
A statement made by the accused was then read to the magistrates: “ I had a drink and then walked up the lane. I saw this barn and thought it was a likely one. I just went to it and put a match to the hay. I have not been working but drinking dinner time and night and it has just gone to my head.” Similar statements admitting to the other two fires were then read out and the magistrates committed Holden for trial at the next Lancaster Assizes.
In October 1955 Holden appeared before Mr. Justice Donovan at the Lancaster Assizes.
He admitted to the three charges of maliciously setting fire to barns and asked for two other charges of setting fire to barns in Brindle to be considered.
The prosecution stated that total damage had amounted to £4.500 and the acts of arson had caused much trouble for the fire brigade.
It was then stated that the accused had previous convictions for arson in barns at Lea and Brindle.
In October 1934 he had received a sentence of 18 months in prison and three years later he was sentenced to a three-year term in prison.
In his defence it was stated that in July 1933 whilst out cycling Holden had been involved in a serious accident with a motorcyclist, who was killed.
Holden receiving serious head injuries in the accident. After that he had developed a tendency for setting barns alight and seemed totally oblivious of the seriousness of his conduct.
His counsel concluding by saying that when he becomes gripped by such feelings he feels that he must do it.
Mr. Justice Donovan then addressed the prisoner telling him that it was necessary to take steps to ensure that you are never in a position to set fire to barns again.
He then informed him that he was sentenced to life imprisonment, with the sentence subject to review by the Home Secretary.