Paul Johnson said he wanted to watch the temple and a nearby church burn down
EDINBURGH, UK—Police have reacted to news that a man who started fires at two Edinburgh places of worship within minutes of each other has been jailed for four years.
Paul Johnson, 49, told officers after he was arrested for the fires at a Methodist church and a Sikh [Gurdwara] that he had wanted to watch them burn down.
Johnson claimed that he was wanting to make “a political statement” but would not elaborate on the details.
Advocate depute Alan Cameron said: “When asked whether this was religiously motivated he stated that he has no issue with any particular religion but his issues are with religion and God in general.”
On Thursday, Johnson – who pleaded guilty to two charges last month – was sent to prison.
Passing sentence, Lord Boyd told Johnson that he had no other option but to impose a custodial term on him.
He added: “Your actions put people at risk. They were reckless and wicked. I take into account that your actions were motivated by a grudge against religion and religious authority and not against one particular religion.
“Indeed, I take into account that you appeared not to know what denominations you targeted.”
Speaking following the sentencing, detective inspector Grant Johnston from Gayfield CID, said: “Paul Johnson showed absolutely no concern for the safety or wellbeing of those in or around either place of worship when he started these fires.
“As a result of a swift police investigation, Johnson was quickly traced and arrested in connection with the fire and has now been given a custodial sentence.
“We treat all hate crime incidents with the utmost seriousness and whenever such offences occur, we will conduct a thorough inquiry to ring those responsible to justice.”
Johnson admitted two charges of wilful fire raising aggravated by religious prejudice when he appeared at the High Court in Edinburgh last month.
He pled guilty to setting fire to the doors of the Leith Methodist Church at Junction Place, in Edinburgh, on August 28 this year by pouring petrol over them and applying a naked flame resulting in charring and burn marks.
He also admitted on the same day setting fire to the doors of the Guru Nanak Sikh Temple at Sheriff Brae, in Edinburgh.
The court heard that the temple priest Harbhajan Singh earlier secured the doors of the premises and went to family quarters at the rear of the building where he stayed with his wife and child.
Just before 5am, a worshipper alerted him to fire at the front door, and they rushed to put it out.
The entranceway was damaged in the blaze.
A caretaker at the Methodist church arrived at his work and smelled petrol and burning and saw scorch marks at the gate and steps at the front door.
After media reports of the fire at the Sikh temple he contacted police.
Johnson was caught on CCTV and told police he “”he wanted to watch them burn down”.
On Thursday, Mr Nicolson told Lord Boyd that his client hadn’t co-operated with a specialist social worker who had been appointed to write a report into his background.
He added: “I am limited by what I can say. It is very limited. The primary form of mitigation which I can advance is that he tendered a plea of guilty at the earliest opportunity. I would ask you to take that into account.”
Lord Boyd said that if Johnson hadn’t pleaded guilty, he would have received a six year sentence.