Killer left neighbour to burn alive after pouring petrol on caravan and setting it alight

A feuding neighbour was jailed for life with a minimum of 25 years for leaving a man living next-door to burn alive in his blazing caravan.

Darren Smith, 43 (pictured) had a row with neighbour Richard Thomas, 52, and left him
Jailed for life: Darren Smith, 43, killed his neighbour by pouring petrol on his caravan and setting it alight. (Wales News)

A man who killed his neighbour by pouring petrol on his caravan and setting it alight has been jailed for life.

Darren Smith, 43, had argued with Richard Thomas, 52, three days before attacking him in his own home and leaving him incapacitated on the floor and unable to escape the fire.

After the "altercation" at their countryside site, the defendant texted his mother, saying: "I don't need that, but if he does it again I would have to hurt him."

Jason Pritchard, a fellow resident at The Beeches Residential Caravan Park in Magor, Monmouthshire, told how on 20 December 2021 he was woken in the night to the sound of dogs barking.

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He saw what he thought was steam coming from Thomas's caravan and saw the defendant in his dressing gown walking calmly away, back towards his own home, Cardiff Crown Court heard.

Around 15 minutes later, Pritchard looked out of his window again and realised it was not steam, but black smoke.

He went over and saw some of the glass on the caravan had been smashed and that the kitchen area was on fire.

Richard Thomas, 52, who died after neighbour Darren Smith set his caravan ablaze at The Beeches Residential Caravan Park in Magor,
The family of victim Richard Thomas, 52, said: 'Our lives will never be the same again.' (Wales News)

The court heard how he saw Thomas had been "catastrophically burned" and phoned 999.

When he told Smith he'd seen him in the caravan, the defendant allegedly replied: "People in glass houses shouldn't throw stones. If he dies, he dies."

Thomas died in Bristol’s Southmead Hospital with burns on 60 to 70% of his body. He had also suffered blunt force injuries to the head and chest, including six fractured ribs.

When firefighters and police arrived, Smith went to speak to them and said he "knew nothing about the fire and suggested Mr Thomas might have taken his own life", prosecutor Michael Jones KC said.

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When one officer allegedly "noticed soot" on Smith's nostrils he denied being in the caravan and said it was from his log burner.

Police later found his dressing gown and shoes had been washed. Smith denied murder and told officers Thomas set fire to himself in his own caravan. But the jury found him guilty.

Judge Tracey Lloyd-Clarke said: "You said, 'No one was meant to die.' I find that to be true but there was obviously a high risk of death by lighting a fire close or setting fire to Mr Thomas himself while unconscious."

On Friday, Smith was sentenced to life imprisonment with a minimum of 25 years.

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In a statement to the court, the victim's brother Bryn Thomas said: "We were in shock and unable to understand such a terrible event could have possibly happened to our brother.

"No one can put into words the pain, disbelief and anguish we felt following Richard's death. That horrific period of our lives remains with us daily and for the rest of our days. It will last several generations through the Thomas family.

"Richard was a much-loved son, father, brother, brother-in-law, uncle and cousin. Richard's untimely passing left us broken.

"The man responsible will never be able to comprehend the impact his actions have had on our family. Our lives will never be the same again.

"There is some modicum of comfort that this violent and dangerous individual will be behind bars and not able to harm another soul."