A DRUNK 64-year-old newspaper deliverer who launched a revenge arson attack on his employers after he thought they had deliberately got his benefits cut has been jailed.

Burnley Crown Court heard Neil Hitchin had been working for victims Caroline and Adrian Watts at Watts’ Newsagents on Burnley Road East, Waterfoot, for five years.

But Hitchin, who was claiming benefits at the time, failed to declare his paperboy earnings to the Department for Work and Pensions.

Prosecuting, Richard Archer said Mr and Mrs Watts had declared the earnings of all their employees to the Inland Revenue, which had alerted the DWP to the fact he was working part-time and led to a reduction in Hitchin’s benefits.

The court heard how Hitchin, of Crabtree Avenue, Newchurch, initially turned his anger towards the DWP and had talked to another paperboy about fire-bombing the Job Centre.Mr Archer said Hitchin’s attention later turned to Mr and Mrs Watts who he blamed for the reduction of his benefits.

At around 3.30am on July 14 the victims were awoken by the sound of their fire alarm going off in their home, next to the newsagents.

When Mr Watts went to investigate he was met with smoke coming from the hallway of the property.

After telling his wife to call the fire service, Mr Watts led her to safety through an office which had stairs leading to the newsagents.

After firefighters had put out the fire, they found two water bottles containing the accelerant white spirit had been set alight and posted through the letterbox.

CCTV footage from the area showed a male figure - later identified as being Hitchin - wearing a dark jacket with a stripe down one side and covering his face with something white.

When officers went to Hitchin’s house later the same day they found him carrying the same jacket, and when they went inside the house smelled of white spirit.

When Hitchin was arrested he told police he had been painting his skirting boards at 3am and used white spirit to clean his paint brushes, but he later pleaded guilty to a single charge of arson being reckless to whether life had been endangered.

In a harrowing victim impact statement, Mr Watts said he had nightmares about being trapped in a burning building and said he was concerned Hitchin wouldn’t have known about the stairs leading to the newsagent, and so in his mind had blocked their only escape out of the building through the front door.

Defending, Anthony Stephenson said his client was a loner who had recently been diagnosed with Aspergers.

He added: “He is remorseful. He is regretful.

“He is someone who says he never intended to do harm.”

Judge Jonathan Gibson jailed Hitchin for 42 months, said: “There was a significant risk of physical harm by what you did. You put accelerant through a letter box and set it alight. If the smoke detector hadn’t gone off the consequences could have been much more severe.”