Report by our Court Reporter
A gangland hitman petrol bombed two expensive cars parked immediately outside a family home in a leafy suburb of Formby in a mystery attack.
James Adrian, from Waterloo, who has convictions involving drugs and guns, deliberately drove to the scene armed with a container of petrol which he poured over the vehicles and set them alight.
Miraculously householder Elliot Hope was by chance sleeping in a downstairs uncurtained bedroom and was quickly able to alert his midwife partner, asleep after a gruelling 12 hour shift, and their four children, also sleeping, and escort them to safety.
It was the second such attack at the couple’s three storey semi-detached home in Queens Road, Formby, near Southport, Merseyside in five months but the victims are at a loss to understand why they were targeted.
After torching Mr Hope’s Jaguar and his partner, Elizabeth Johnson’s VW Golf, destroying them, Adrian sped away from the scene in the early hours of March 31 - but unluckily for him his driving raised suspicions of a police patrol and they began following him.
Liverpool Crown Court heard on Tuesday, May 5 that by the time police “corralled” hIm on the Formby by-pass as he headed homewards in his Ford Fiesta they were aware of the arson attack. They found an empty petrol can and petrol steeped gloves in the vehicle.
Michael Stephenson, prosecuting, said that footage from a CCTV camera - installed by the couple after the earlier arson last November - showed Adrian was also equipped with a two litre drink container and a small hammer and he was shown pouring liquid from the container over the vehicles. That container was later found discarded in a litter bin.
Flames from the burning cars led to the hall and ground floor of the family’s home filling with thick smoke and caused extensive damage to the front door and window frames, including the window of the bedroom window where Mr Hope’s son was sleeping.
After Mr Hope raised the alarm Mrs Johnson and the four children, aged between eight and 13, fled through the conservatory into the rear garden and the fire brigade were called.
Adrian pleaded guilty to two offences of arson being reckless whether lives were endangered but the defendant, who is not known by the couple, was silent in interview and has never revealed any motive.
Jailing him for six years Judge Brian Cummings, QC, said, “This was an appallingly dangerous thing to do. There is no clarity as to what the precise background is to all of this but it has all the hallmarks of a gangland attack and there is a tacit acceptance of that fact of your behaviour.”
He pointed out that that was not “to cast any aspersions against the victims.”
Judge Cummings continued, “There is nothing to indicate you personally had any grievance against any of the occupants of this house and the Crown put the matter on the basis you were doing this for reward.”
He pointed out that the arson had also posed a potential risk to neighbours. “Does torching two cars very close to a building at 2am with all those occupants carry a high risk of very serious physical harm? My answer is, of course it does.”
Mr Stephenson had told the court, “Someone is sufficiently hostile to one or both of the couple to have arranged two arson attacks at their home in the space of five months . They don’t know or say who that could be. The alternative is that two unrelated arson attacks at the same address have happened. The defendant doesn’t appear to have any motive of his own- so he did what he did for reward.
There are convictions in his past of the sort associated with organised crime including drug supply and possession of firearms and ammunition.”
He said that a letter written by 46-year-old Adrian “does not shed any light on the reasons for his actions. He makes reference to drugs and the importance of respect - which is sometimes a feature of gang activity.”
Mr Stephenson added that it appeared to be “some form of revenge attack. There was a significant degree of planning and the use of an accelerant, petrol bombing two cars.”
The blaze caused a total of £40,000 worth of damage, writing off the cars and damaging the house, and in a victim impact statement Mr Hope said that because of the pandemic lockdown situation the family have not been able to get new cars or have house repairs carried out and are living with the front door and windows boarded up.
The couple’s children remained frightened and his son, who had been living with them, has now gone back to live with his mum which may jeopardise the family unit.
In her statement Mrs Johnson told how the children had to checked by paramedics and she had been shocked and saddened by the attack. “The children are frightened it will happen again.”
She was off work from her job at the Royal Women’s Hospital in Liverpool for three weeks but had gone