Keith Higginbotham rigged his two-bedroomed Victorian house to be destroyed in a gas explosion by disconnecting the supply pipe to his gas cooker and leaving flammable fumes to fill the house.
While he was out a spark from a fridge or heating boiler ignited the fumes, creating a fireball that ripped through his home, blowing off the roof and causing the walls to bulge. Windows in neighbouring houses in Fremantle Street, Stockport, Greater Manchester were shattered by the force of the blast.
A woman and an 11-month-old baby living near by were showered with glass. A telephone, doorknob and curtains from Higginbotham's home flew through a neighbour's window from the force of the explosion.
Nineteen people had to spend the night in bed and breakfast accommodation but nobody was injured. Higginbotham, who had bought the house in 1992, was arrested in October 1997, three months after the explosion. The house was insured for pounds 50,000 but it is not known whether he had filed an insurance claim for the damage.
The blast happened four months after Higginbotham, 31, lost his pounds 170- a week job as a production manager. He had failed to make mortgage payments of pounds 1,760.
Speaking of the explosion, Judge Jonathan Geake told Higginbotham at Manchester Crown Court: "It was like a bomb waiting to be ignited and so it was with devastating consequences to your house and with great risk to the people across the street.
"Fortunately and miraculously no one was hurt and no one has suffered. In the end the person who finished up the greatest loser is you. You have lost your home and lost financially and medically. When you come out of prison you will have to rebuild your life."
At the time of the explosion Higginbotham was on bail after being arrested by the Obscene Publications Squad and charged in connection with an international pornography racket, which involved a gang copying pornographic videos imported from Holland for distribution across Britain by mail order.
The court was told that the obscene videos may have had a "significant" link to the blast but no motive was clear.
Higginbotham told officers: "The house is the only thing I have ever owned and I've lost everything I ever had in it. Everything that I had since school. I would have thought of a better way than pulling a pipe out if I was going to blow up my house. I'm an intelligent bloke. I'm not stupid."
Higginbotham was found guilty of arson after a trial two months ago. He claimed the explosion was accidental. The court heard that he had other convictions for attempted deception and theft.
He was given probation for the pornography racket at an earlier hearing before he was charged over the explosion.
Counsel for the defence, Tom Fitzpatrick, said his client planned to appeal. He added: "There is nothing to suggest he is any threat or danger and there is nothing to suggest he is anything other than an ordinary individual."Reuse content