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Man given life sentence for Bristol boat yard arson

Custody image of Robert Boyd-Stevenson and image of boat fire
Left, Robert Boyd-Stevenson. Right, the fire caused a significant amount of damage. (Fire photos: Avon Fire and Rescue Service)

A man has received a life sentence after starting a fire in a Bristol boat yard that led to extensive damage to historic buildings.

Robert Boyd-Stevenson was sentenced today (Monday 27 November) after pleading guilty to one count of arson with recklessness as to whether life was endangered after he started a fire at Underfall boat yard in May.

The 46-year-old gained access to the site, near Cumberland Road, and deliberately started the blaze which caused damage which is expected to cost millions to repair and take several years.

Emergency services were called at about 12.05am on Saturday 6 May and more than 20 people living in close proximity to the yard were evacuated as a precaution due to the smoke.

The fire spread and destroyed buildings which housed several small business. Two privately-owned boats were also damaged, one of which sunk.

Boyd-Stevenson, from south Bristol, was sentenced at Bristol Crown Court (held at Bristol Magistrates Court).

He was handed a life sentence and must serve a minimum of six years, minus the amount of time he’s been on remand. If he is released, he will be on licence.

Judge Martin Picton described Boyd-Stevenson as a dangerous individual, based on his previous convictions, who must have known the fire had potential to cause significant damage.

Fire at boat yard

Detective Sergeant Lisa Jones said: “The seriousness of the fire cannot be underestimated. On another day, Robert Boyd-Stevenson could have seriously injured or killed someone.

“A huge amount of resources had to be deployed by emergency services on the night in question to protect public safety and surrounding properties to stop the blaze spreading, all of which could have been spent tackling other incidents but for Boyd-Stevenson’s recklessness.

“We worked closely with fire investigators from the outset as well as those at Underfall and we were able to arrest the perpetrator within 24 hours, which is a testament to the hard work put in by officers during a busy bank holiday weekend.”

Drone photo showing the scale of the damage to the boat yard

DS Jones added: “While today sees the criminal proceedings come to a conclusion, it would be wrong not to highlight the ongoing financial and emotional distress that is felt by those people who have had decades of hard labour snatched away from them.

“As well as the damage to historic buildings of local and national heritage, many of them have lost irreplaceable prized possessions and it is sobering to hear the impact this crime has had on them.

“I would like to take this opportunity in thanking the local community of Underfall Yard, as well as the residents of Avon Crescent, for their patience and their strength in dealing with their personal loss and that of this city.”