A man who set fire to a charity shop in Little Sutton has been jailed for seven years.

Lee Flaherty, 30, targeted the Age UK store on Chester Road on Tuesday, January 3, with the blaze causing extensive damage and destroying all stock.

Between January 2016 and May of this year, Flaherty also set fire to the Claire House charity shop in Bromborough and a clothes shop in Middlesbrough. He also burgled another two stores in Bebington and Bromborough. 

On each occasion, Flaherty would visit the stores in advance, posing as a security guard, tradesman or police officer, in order to ascertain what levels of security the stores had in place. He then returned to the shops once they had closed in order to commit his crimes. 

Flaherty would then report the incidents to police himself, using false details and providing fictitious information, as part of an elaborate attempt to avoid suspicion. 

But on Monday, December 4, Flaherty, of Albert Road, Middlesbrough, appeared at Teeside Crown Court where he was jailed for seven years, with a three-year extended licence, after he was convicted of arson with intent, arson, burglary and attempted burglary. 

Detective Sergeant Robin Grantham, from Cheshire Police, said: “The actions taken by Flaherty were totally deplorable. He caused hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of damage and put people’s lives at risk. 

“During the attack in Little Sutton, Flaherty even had the audacity to speak to a resident who was living in the flat above the store just moments before he poured petrol through the window and ignited the building.

“It was only by pure chance that the resident went out of his flat a short time later and realised that the shop below was engulfed in flames. 

“Flaherty truly believed that he was above the law and thought that by feeding officers a web of lies he would be able to escape justice.

“Thankfully, as a result of a thorough investigation by the team here at Ellesmere Port, along with our partners at Merseyside and Cleveland Police, he is now facing the consequences of his actions.” 

The Age UK shop reopened in August following an extensive refurb. The charity was overwhelmed by the response from the local community to the fire, as a JustGiving page raised £1,010 and a local church coffee morning raised £170.