A FORMER cook at Malvern Town Football Club has been warned he faces a long jail sentence after being convicted of starting a “grudge” blaze at a neighbour’s home.

Thomas Corns set three fires at the property in Elgar Avenue, Malvern, where 18-year-old Alex Preece lived with his family.

They had argued earlier that night in the club bar over a damaged car, Worcester Crown Court was told. Corns had branded Mr Preece “a paedo” following an unsubstantiated allegation in the past and as the fire was burning he was said to have commented: “Let the pervert burn.”

A jury convicted Corns, 52, also of Elgar Avenue, of arson with intent to endanger life.

Fortunately, the targeted house was unoccupied because the teenager was staying at his grandmother’s while his parents were away on holiday.

Firefighters quickly brought the blazes under control at about midnight on August 25 last year.

Judge Toby Hooper asked for psychiatric and pre-sentence reports to be prepared and remanded Corns in custody.

He said Corns could expect a lengthy prison term but he wanted to know if the defendant presented a significant risk of serious harm to the public in the future.

Defence counsel Simon Burns said: “This was a drunken grudge and an isolated incident.”

He said Corns, who worked as a volunteer cook at the time, had been taking anti-depressants and sleeping tablets.

But the day before the fire had not taken them, which affected his memory and made him nervous and prone to shouting.

Prosecutor Tim Sapwell said minor damage was caused to door and window frames and to a shed at the property.

He accused Corns of having “a deep-seated hatred” of Mr Preece.

That night, Mr Preece drank six pints of lager in the club bar after downing another eight pints during the day. Police arrested him for being drunk and disorderly.

Corns told the jury that he and Mr Preece walked home together and had then parted company near their homes.

But a neighbour recognised Corns wearing a camouflage jacket and trousers and a woolly hat climbing over a fence into Mr Preece’s garden shortly before flames were spotted by neighbours.

The judge closed the public gallery at the trial after being told that two members of the jury had been caused “great anxiety” by being approached by spectators in the street.

Corns will be sentenced at Hereford Crown Court in the week beginning April 16.