Corporal 'laughed as hangar burned'

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AN RAF corporal laughed and joked as his workplace went up in flames after a colleague had set fire to a huge hangar causing nearly pounds 19m damage, Swindon Crown Court was told yesterday, writes Andrew Mourant.

The court was told that Cpl Stephen Paterson of RAF Hullavington, near Chippenham, Wiltshire, covered up for his friend SAC Douglas Bailey, who started the fire and destroyed around 1,000 parachutes inside the building.

SAC Bailey, who has admitted arson, cut his thumb climbing through a broken window in the hangar before starting the blaze. But afterwards Cpl Paterson washed SAC Bailey's jeans to remove traces of blood and at first told police when interviewed that the arsonist had cut his thumb on a bottle, Geoffrey Still, for the prosecution, said.

Cpl Paterson, 30, denied destroying evidence tending to link SAC Bailey to the crime with the intent of impeding and preventing his friend's prosecution.

Mr Still said the two men made two visits to the hangar in the small hours of 3 January. They had been drinking, 'but it was not enough to prevent them knowing what they were doing'. He said Cpl Paterson did not enter on the second occasion. 'He got cold feet. But he was with the arson, if not in flesh, in spirit.

'There is evidence to suggest that shortly after the first alarm call was made, at about 2.40am, they were together on the green nearby laughing and joking.'

Mr Still told the court the vast hangar provided a unique facility. The building had been refurbished and was where all the parachutes for the UK airborne services were stored and despatched. He said: 'There was a great deal of resentment at the fire, it affected morale. The consequences of the fire threw a heavier workload on all three services.'

The trial continues.