Sheffield man faces life sentence over arson attacks

Thomas Ashcroft
Thomas Ashcroft

A serial arsonist from Sheffield has been told he could face a life sentence for setting fire to a hospital and a museum.

Thomas Ashcroft, aged 39, of Musgrave Crescent, Shirecliffe, pleaded guilty to arson endangering life at the Royal Stoke University Hospital in Stoke on Trent and at a Staffordshire University building which he targeted on the same day - June 7, 2016.

Ashcroft - who was jailed for eight years at Canterbury Crown Court in 2013 for similar offences - further admitted a charge of reckless arson in relation to a fire at the SeaCity Museum at Southampton the day before.

He also admitted burglary of the museum.

But Ashcroft was cleared of the manslaughter of an elderly patient who collapsed and died after the Royal Stoke University Hospital was evacuated following a blaze he started.

During a hearing at Stafford Crown Court yesterday, Recorder of Stafford, Judge Michael Chambers QC, was told a charge of unlawful killing, relating to the death of 89-year-old May Maxfield, had been dropped after expert reports by a pathologist and a cardiologist.

Prosecutor Benjamin Aina QC told the court: "Both experts provided detailed reports stating that sadly, Mrs Maxfield was suffering from heart disease which was of such a severity that her death on June 7 was caused by heart disease rather than the stress of the evacuation from the hospital.

"In those circumstances the Crown have insufficient evidence to prove causation on the manslaughter charge and therefore formally offer no further evidence."

Before adjourning sentencing until February, Judge Chambers told the Ashcroft's barrister: "Given the seriousness of these offences and his antecedents, I have in mind to treat the offender again - as he was at Canterbury - as a dangerous offender but on this occasion to impose a life sentence."

Ashcroft was previously jailed in 2013 after pleading guilty to starting fires at hospitals in Kent and at a Sheffield hotel so he could steal to buy drugs.

The offences - described by a judge as acts of 'sheer premeditated wickedness' - were committed shortly after his release from a year-long sentence for burglary.