Storrington Waitrose arsonist placed in hospital care

The aftermath of the incident. Photo by Steve Robards SUS-150429-202612001
The aftermath of the incident. Photo by Steve Robards SUS-150429-202612001

A man who set himself on fire in a village supermarket has been placed in mental health care.

Michael Spruhan, 53, of Windmill Copse, Storrington, was sentenced by Judge Christopher Parker QC at Chichester Crown Court this afternoon (Wednesday December 9).

He had previously pleaded guilty to arson while being reckless as to whether life was endangered.

Judge Parker sentenced him to a hospital order with a restriction order.

Spruhan will be kept in a mental health hospital until a tribunal decides he is ready for release, Judge Parker said.

He had denied the more serious charge of arson with intent to endanger life, and was found not guilty by a jury in October.

During the trial, the court heard that he had entered the Waitrose store in Storrington on April 29 and poured petrol over his head before striking a cigarette lighter.

Paul Walker, defending, said Spruhan had no previous convictions.

“These events came very much out of the blue,” he said. “His partner gave evidence that although he’d been acting very strangely, nothing like this had ever happened before.

“You know about his lack of convictions, clean criminal record.

“He’d had a mental breakdown, and what happened that day clearly happened as a result of that.”

Sentencing, Judge Parker told Spruhan: “Up until the end of April of this year, for 52 years you had led not just a blameless life, but an entirely upstanding life as a loyal and hard-working man.

“It’s quite plain however that shortly after you lost your very long term employment you entered a period of severe and clinical depression, and you suffered from a mental disorder, diagnosed by Dr Ardron as psychotic depression.”

He added: “This offence was committed entirely because of your mental disorder, without which you wouldn’t have committed any malicious act towards anybody at all.”

He said this meant it would not be appropriate to send Spruhan to prison.

Forensic psychiatrists had assessed Spruhan as being very unlikely to re-offend.

However, Judge Parker said the very low risk had to be weighed against the potential for extremely serious harm if another incident did happen.

He added: “I have to acknowledge the bravery of the various witnesses who gave evidence at the trial and who intervened to prevent what could have been a very grave catastrophe.”

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