Colonel waged war on innocent neighbours

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The Independent Online

An army colonel who carried out a motiveless arson campaign against his neighbours was spared jail on Friday after a court heard he was suffering severe depression after 30 years' service including spells in Northern Ireland and Bosnia.

The court heard that, after falling seriously ill in 1997, Colonel James Daniell, 52, displayed symptoms of obsession towards his neighbours, who were making improvements to their home ­ a rectory near Taunton. Daniell, who was appointed an OBE after a five-month posting to Sarajevo, explained he was driven to set the house alight because he was angry at disruption and noise caused by building work.

The former Royal Green Jacket, who retired following diagnosis of his condition in 1999, complained anonymously to his local council and then delivered his neighbours matches and a live bullet as a threat, Taunton Crown Court heard. But a judge ruled on Friday that he would escape a custodial sentence because of "extreme circumstances" only on the condition that he continue to be treated for his illness.

Daniell also admitted stealing a credit card and attempting to obtain property by deception in 1997 while suffering from a depressive illness.

Judge Graham Hume Jones told him: "A depressive illness that could lead a man of your character and a man of your bravery and distinction to commit these crimes, certainly does amount to an exceptional circumstance. This is the second time you have pleaded a progressive illness. I doubt you will get another chance."

Daniell set fire to the Old Rectory in Hillfarrance, owned by businessman David Adams and his wife Amanda, in three separate attacks last year which caused damage estimated at £154,000. He was caught after aborting a fourth arson attempt on December 26. Police were tipped off by a security guard watching over the house and they arrived to find a black plastic bag containing bottles of white spirit and diesel fuel. He was arrested in January after he was identified on CCTV footage from a DIY store where he bought the items.

Alan Large, for the defence, said that Daniell was still haunted by memories of his early days in the army and they had been exacerbated by his Balkans experience.

On his second tour of Northern Ireland, aged 22, he was wounded by a gunshot and later praised for gallantry. He rose through the ranks during a further five tours of Northern Ireland and then served from 1992 to 1997 in the Balkans.

Mr Large said: "After that, it is clear things started to go wrong. He can't explain what he's done and why he's done it, but he accepts that it must have caused Mr and Mrs Adams enormous distress and upset."

Mr Large was critical of the MoD's handling of Daniell's ill-health ­ he was not asked to resign until eleven months after his problems began. When he finally retired in 1999, he bought the converted vicarage hoping for a fresh start with his wife and teenage children.