A man tried to set fire to a top judge in court after he was told he could lose his home in a bankruptcy hearing, a court heard yesterday.
Clive Burke, 62, armed himself with a kitchen knife, a bottle of petrol and half a brick before appearing at a bankruptcy hearing held at Cambridge County Court.
A court heard that just 20 minutes into the case an ”agitated” Burke threw petrol over the witness box, court benches and towards Judge James Taylor.
Burke then ignited the fuel with a match and grappled with a security guard before fleeing the building as staff, lawyers and judges were evacuated.
He was arrested at Cambridge railway station where bomb squad officers used a robot to remove the doors of his car and carried out four controlled explosions.
Burke, of Waterbeach, Cambs, is charged with causing arson with intent to endanger life, assault and two counts of possessing an offensive weapon.
John Farmer, prosecuting, told Cambridge Crown Court that Burke was ”dissatisfied” with the bankruptcy hearing.
Mr Farmer said: ”His case concerns a fire deliberately started by the defendant in the court room while the court was in session.
”The defendant was dissatisfied with how the proceedings were going and set fire to the court room.
”The defendant was obviously wound up in the manner he conducted himself and the judge decided to adjourn to allow him to get a grip on himself.
”When he returned the defendant took out his bag with the petrol in it and not only poured it around but threw it towards various people, including the judge, then lights it with a match. A few drops actually splashed onto the judge’s jacket and shirt.”
Judge James Taylor, the victim of Burke’s attack, revealed in court that petrol landed on his shirt and jacket as it was thrown around the packed courtroom.
He said: ”He shouted ‘this is petrol’ and I didn’t believe him. It sounded so outlandish. He then took the top off and I could smell it.
”He turned and threw some petrol towards his sister-in-law and a solicitor, Mr Falvey. He then turned to the witness box and threw petrol towards the Trustee in Bankruptcy, Mr Lettice.
”Then he turned and threw petrol towards me. It landed on my shirt and jacket. The court was filled with huge amounts of black acrid smoke and flames. The last thing I saw was Mr Burke swinging his briefcase towards the security guard, Mr Clark.
Burke allegedly set fire to Cambridge County Court, on East Road, Cambridge, with petrol contained in a plastic milk bottle just after 11am on June 14 this year.
He was made bankrupt in 2007 as a result of a case he brought against the Multiple Sclerosis Association of Huntingdon, Cambs.
Building engineer Burke successfully claimed he had been underpaid by £60,000 and was awarded £7,000 compensation – but ordered to pay court costs of over £50,000.
Trustees representing his debtors applied to the court for his house to be sold to pay off his debts at the hearing in June this year.
Burke was so upset by the proceedings that after ten minutes he was ordered to take a ten minute break – but returned and set fire to the court.
He was arrested at Cambridge railway station before an area of the car park was cordoned off and a robot was used to examine his car.
Mark Shelley, defending Burke, claimed the petrol was only spread around the court when his client was forcibly restrained by a security guard.
He said: ”I suggest he was holding the open bottle when the security guard came over and tried to restrain him. The bottle, which was full, was sloshing around and fell from his hand and bounced on the desk.”
The case continues.
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