Lorry Driver Hugh Billington Who Crashed Oil Tanker Into Estranged Wife's House Jailed

PA/Huffington Post UK  |  Posted: 30/04/2012 15:58 Updated: 30/04/2012 15:58

Lorry Driver
Billington drove the oil tanker into his wife's house

A lorry driver who drove a tanker laden with 2,000 litres of fuel into his estranged wife's house has been jailed for seven years.

Army veteran Hugh Billington, 51, crashed the seven-and-a-half tonne lorry loaded with kerosene through the front of the bungalow causing £235,000 of damage.

Christine Billington was in the kitchen when her husband mounted the pavement, fleeing in terror into a neighbour's garden.

In court, Billington pleaded guilty to arson being reckless as to whether life was endangered, assault by beating, dangerous driving and theft.

He denied the more serious charge of arson with intent to endanger life, maintaining that his wife had a routine and that she should have already left for work when the tanker crashed through the bungalow.

As children with their parents walked past the bungalow on their way to school in Wool, Dorset, Billington attempted to raze the property to the ground by turning on the gas cooker and lighting kerosene he had poured around four rooms.

He then ran off.

Chris Billington, an army veteran

Trevor Knott, an off-duty special constable, tried to apprehend Billington as he escaped on foot, however Billington kicked him and fled the scene.

Darren Fletcher, another witness, had also seen what Billington had done and risked his own life by driving the fuel tanker out of immediate danger.

The court heard how Billington and his wife had separated after 30 years and he would not accept the marriage was over.

He had moved out of their home the previous December and had been ordered by a court not to contact his wife or go to the marital home.

At the time of the incident, Billington was already on bail for an allegation of domestic violence against his wife and was the subject of restraining order.

Dorchester Crown Court heard that it was only good fortune that the tanker did not explode.

Passing sentence Judge Roger Jarvis said several senior Army officers had spoken very highly of Billington's service and this made this case "more tragic".

"The valves were fortunately not fully open and if they had and the fire had caught properly it needs very little imagination to imagine what would happen - there would have been an enormous bomb.

"What concerns me is that it happened when people are walking to school and that is a deeply troubling feature and shows how wickedly irresponsible you were."

As well as the jail term, Judge Jarvis banned Billington from driving for five years and imposed a restraining order banning him from direct contact with his wife indefinitely.

"There are two words which perhaps sum up what happened to Mr Billington in those few hours immediately before the incident and they are his words: 'something snapped'.

"He is clearly a man who has served his country and clearly something snapped. During his lengthy prison sentence he has to find within himself why that happened.

"I am told that you are full of remorse and so you should be. You have behaved in a very wicked way indeed.

"The offences are very serious offences indeed and if you had pleaded not guilty and had been found guilty I would have sentenced you into custody for 10 years.

"Having regard to your plea and what I have heard about you I sentence you to seven years' imprisonment."

The judge also praised the bravery of Mr Fletcher, who had reversed the tanker out of danger.

"Everybody needs to pay tribute to the actions of Darren Fletcher who must have realised there was some real risk to himself," he said.

"These are the actions of a very brave person."