I went through hell, says youth cleared over fire

  • @_richardhall

A teenager who was held in custody for nine days after being mistakenly identified by police as being responsible for setting fire to a Miss Selfridge store during riots in Manchester has spoken of going through "hell" during his detention.

Dane Williamson, 18, of Salford, was arrested after £319,000 worth of stock was damaged at Miss Selfridge in Manchester city centre.

But shortly after appearing at Manchester Crown Court on Thursday, he was told that the case had been discontinued and he had been exonerated.

Mr Williamson had consistently protested his innocence, claiming his arrest had been due to a case of mistaken identity, but was charged with causing criminal damage and being reckless as to whether life was endangered, which carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.

While on remand in Forest Bank prison, his flat in Salford was severely damaged by fire, destroying all of his possessions and leaving him homeless.

Mr Williamson has since spoken of his difficult time in custody.

"Being in Forest Bank was horrible. I had heard my name all over the radio. In prison I was being treated as if I was already guilty. It was quite scary and an experience I don't want to repeat," he told the Manchester Evening News.

He added: "I was going through hell. I was depressed. I was having panic attacks. I feared I was going to get convicted for something I didn't do which potentially carried a life sentence.

"While I was in custody I got the news from my solicitor that there had been a fire at my flat. All my personal belongings and photos were destroyed. I lost my home."

Mr Williamson has spent 17 years of his life living in care, and had moved into his home in Broughton, Salford, with the help of the children's charity Barnado's.

His solicitor, Kerry Morgan, spoke of her concerns that courts dealing with the riots had been working on a presumption of guilt rather than innocence. The lawyer at the Salford-based Morgan Brown and Cahill added that the charge was "rushed" because of the high-profile nature of the case.

Police have since arrested a 50-year-old man in connection with the incident but Greater Manchester police say they are still searching for those who started the fire.

A spokeswoman for the Crown Prosecution Service said: "The evidence against Mr Williamson was based on recognition from visual recordings. However following the charge the police discovered CCTV footage which significantly undermined the case."

In London, where the worst of the riots occurred, nearly 2,000 arrests have been made, and under half that number have been charged.

London's Notting Hill Carnival, Europe's biggest street festival, is to go ahead later this month, despite calls for it to be cancelled following the riots. But those accused of rioting have been ordered to stay away from the event, as fears mount over fresh outbreaks of violence.

Police numbers have been substantially increased, to the largest in the event's 47-year history.