An asylum seeker who set fire to his bed in his taxpayer-funded hotel room after claiming he was suffering ‘acute stress’ over his legal battle to settle in Britain has been jailed for three years.
Mehdi Anqouti-Kehi, 36, had been assigned along with at least 200 other migrants to stay at a Britannia Hotel at public expense after he arrived illegally in the UK from his native Iran.
But fearing his application for asylum might fail, Anqouti-Kehi torched his mattress and quilt with a cigarette lighter then stood by and then watched the flames as staff tried in vain to rescue him.
The hotel in Offerton, near Stockport, Greater Manchester which was packed with migrant families had to be evacuated but despite pleas, Anqouti refused to leave his third floor room.
Firefighters had to risk their own lives to get him out and extinguish the blaze.
Fearing his application for asylum might fail, Mehdi Anqouti-Kehi, 36, torched his mattress at the Britannia Hotel in Offerton near Stockport, Greater Manchester, forcing fire fighters to rescue him
After being treated in hospital for burns whilst under arrest, Anqouti-Kehi was then released without charge by police, jumped bail and went on the run for 11 months.
He was arrested at another hotel last March after a warrant was issued for his detention.
Fire damage was caused to the bed but whilst the blaze caused extensive smoke damage to the walls, it did not spread to other rooms or corridors.
The hotel chain later said it cost £4,000 in repair bills and also claimed it lost £6,393 in income due to the room being put of action for 120 days.
At Minshull Street Crown Court, Manchester, Anqouti-Kehi admitted arson but claimed his only intention was to harm himself.
His claim for asylum to the UK has since been rejected and he now faces being deported back to his homeland following his release from jail.
The blaze occurred on April 29 last year after Anqouti-Kehi was checked into Room 151 at the 180-room hotel at public expense by the Government after arriving illegally in the UK via Germany.
The court heard his room was ‘sparsely furnished’ with just one bed and a sink.
Mr Duncan Wilcock prosecuting said: ‘At the time the hotel was being used to house asylum seekers and the defendant was living in his room on his own.
‘Just after 5pm, a duty manager was made aware a fire alarm had been set off and knocked at the defendant’s door. He found himself inside stood up with the quilt on the bed in what he described as like a bonfire.
‘He saw large flames coming from mattress giving out really thick smoke and shouted at the defendant to get out but the defendant made no comment and seemed determined to remain in Room 151.
‘ The manager felt he had no choice but to leave the room and evacuate the entire hotel.
The Britannia Hotel in Offerton, Greater Manchester, where asylum seeker Mehdi Anqouti-Kehi set fire to his bed
‘He says there were hundreds of people in the hotel at the time and quite a lot were children. Emergency services were called and the fire service sent three fire engines to tackle to the fire.
‘They attended to find the fire was still going and officers tried to persuade the defendant to leave the room. But he did not respond so the officers had to use breathing apparatus to force entry to the room and rescue the defendant.
‘Police also arrived and arrested the defendant ahead of him being taken to hospital where he was found to have suffered burns to his face and smoke inhalation. Once the building had been evacuated the room was made safe and then secured with officers noting the room was sparsely furnished at the time.
‘There was found to be smoke damage throughout the room – although flame damage was restricted to the mattress and bed. A packet of tobacco and rizla papers was found and officers determined the fire had been started with a naked flame to the bed.
‘As the main door and the windows to the bedroom were closed, the fire was unlikely to have spread beyond the room itself and fire would have self-extinguished due to the lack of ventilation.
‘The company said the room was out of action for 120 days and the cost of repairs was just over £4,000 and the loss of income from that room was £6,393.
‘The defendant was subsequently released under investigation given a date to attend court but he failed to attend and was later re-arrested at a hotel in Merseyside in March this year. He failed with his claim for asylum to this country.’
In mitigation, defence counsel Kay Driver said her client had a mental disorder and added: ‘He has a difficult background going back nine years. He worked in Germany before coming to the UK to make an application for asylum.
However having lived in the Britannia hotel, Ms driver said Anqouti-Kehi became acutely aware there was no work for him in the UK and he was anxious about his future. His reaction was stress related.
‘He understands that multiple people were put in danger by the fire but he has expressed regret and remorse for what happened. It appears the smoke damage was extensive although damage to the furniture was minor.’
Sentencing the judge Miss Recorder Abigail Hudson told Anqouti-Kehi: ‘That hotel was potentially home to 180 families many of whom were children and every single person in the hotel that evening were put at risk of death or serious injury because of what you did.
‘They will have been frightened because of yours acts and that fear will have been heightened by them waiting outside for police and fire service to finish their business.
‘Emergency services were put at risk and were put to considerable expense to resolve the problems you caused. The NHS was then put to further public expense by treating your injuries.
‘I acknowledge it was not your intention to hurt anyone except yourself but it seems you have no appreciation of the risk you presented and have little thought for anyone except yourself.
‘Whilst I also accept this event was contributed to by an acute stress reaction, the risk you present remains high because you have very few positive factors to mitigate that risk.
‘You have no housing, no employment, no family and little support and your anxieties about the future very much remain. Your condition could have resulted in a reduced ability to control your impulses but you knew what you were doing.’