A MAN involved in a benefits dispute caused panic when he poured petrol over himself in a jobcentre.
Former doorman Stuart Andrew Jones threatened to set himself on fire and flicked a cigarette lighter – but it did not ignite.
Jones, 44, of Wrexham but living in his car at the time, was owed more than £1,000.
He complained no one was listening to him, he was desperate, and stood in front of shocked staff and clients and shouted: “I want my money.”
“Nobody is listening to me. I am going to set myself on fire.”
Staff raised the alarm and got blankets and a fire extinguisher as a precaution.
Members of the public, including at least two children, fled in panic.
The area was evacuated and considerable disruption was caused in Wrexham town centre and to adjoining businesses.
Security staff calmed him down, police negotiators were called in and Jones was later handed cheques totalling £1,100, which he was owed.
At Mold Crown Court yesterday Jones was jailed for 20 months after he admitted threatening to destroy property and possessing articles intending to destroy property.
Judge Merfyn Hughes QC said Jones had a grievance against the Department for Works and Pensions and on October 3 he went to the jobcentre with a can of petrol and poured fuel on his clothing.
“Then with a lighter you tried to ignite the petrol vapours,” the judge said.
“If you had been successful it would no doubt have had fatal consequences for you and pose a very serious risk of danger to the lives of others.
“In the event, you failed to set alight to yourself and eventually negotiations led to a reasonable conclusion.”
The judge said Jones had told a psychiatrist he did not regret what he had done.
He had deliberately targeted a public service where there were other people including children present.
Gareth Roberts, prosecuting, said the jobcentre was crowded at about 2.45pm when Jones walked in.
Having doused himself, he said he wanted his money, complained no one would pay him and said “don’t try to stop me” as he flicked the lighter.
Fortunately, the lighter was being held upside down and did not light.
Jones was ushered from the main area where staff tried to placate him and police attended very quickly.
They established he was owed money and three cheques were handed over.
He allowed himself to be disarmed and was taken to a mental health unit for assessment.
Stephen Edwards, defending, said Jones had physical issues following a motorcycle accident when he was young, and mental health issues, both of which entitled him to an enhanced disability allowance.
He was desperate and had been to the jobcentre earlier to try to sort matters out, had enlisted the help of the Citizens Advice Bureau, which tried to help, but he felt no one was listening and he was being ignored.
Jones, who had no previous convictions, had worked as a welder and as a door supervisor.
He was unable to work because of his condition, was homeless and living out of his car, had to ask his mother for money and was desperate.
The court heard he had a history of mental instability and was now properly medicated.
He appreciated what he had done was wrong.
Mr Edwards said it was a great tribute to the emergency services that very early after the arrival of a trained police negotiator, the situation was calmed and the issues resolved.
He said there was no evidence Jones had a fascination with fire – it was “a cry for help to draw attention to his problems”.
The court heard he had sent the money he received to his mother to pay back what he owed her and to buy Christmas presents for younger members of the family.