Homeless man who set police officer on fire jailed
A homeless man who doused two police officers in petrol before setting one of them on fire in Newquay has been jailed for ten-and-a-half years.
Blagovest Hadjigueorguiev left Police Constable Darral Mares with severe burns to his legs and hand after he was engulfed in flames during the incident in September.
The Devon and Cornwall Police officer, who was saved from further serious injury by the quick actions of his colleague, Police Constable Alan Lenton, is still recovering from the attack.
PC Mares has issued a heartfelt thank you to all those who have helped him and well-wishers around the world for their “humbling” messages of support.
Bulgarian national Hadjigueorguiev, aged 30, of no fixed abode, admitted inflicting grievous bodily harm on PC Mares with intent and attempting to inflict grievous bodily harm with intent on PC Lenton.
He was sentenced to ten-and-a-half years in prison by Judge Robert Linford at Truro Crown Court on Friday (November 6).
PCs Mares and Lenton had been called to a field next to Trevenson Road on the morning of Friday, September 11, to support bailiffs tasked with evicting the offender from the land.
They were met with resistance from Hadjigueorguiev and a threat to “set them on fire”.
He had unscrewed the lid from a glass cider bottle containing petrol and remained close to a home-made cooker with a naked flame.
Hadjigueorguiev then doused both police officers in the liquid as they approached and tried to take hold of him. The fuel then ignited and PC Mares was engulfed in flames.
With no thought for his own safety, PC Lenton grabbed his colleague, pulled him away from the fire and rolled him in long grass to extinguish the flames.
He removed burnt clothing from PC Mares before applying handcuffs to Hadjigueorguiev, who had been bravely restrained on the ground by bailiffs Matthew McLaren and Peter Temlett.
Within minutes several police officers from Newquay police station, including an off-duty police constable, arrived at the scene.
The fire service and paramedics followed before PC Mares was taken to hospital by Cornwall Air Ambulance with significant burns to his left hand and both legs.
Detective Inspector Daniel Massey, who led the investigation, praised the work of all involved in capturing evidence to help bring Hadjigueorguiev to justice.
He said: “This incident reflects the dangers and challenges the police face on a daily basis, despite this force area being one of the safest places to live.
“It also accurately shows how we and our partners can work so well together, regardless of how bad things are, in order to do the right thing.
“I am fortunate to personally know Darral and Al, and I am pleased to report that Darral is now on the road to recovery.”
PC Mares said: “My recuperation process is still ongoing, I am healing well and at this stage expected to recover without any further hospitalisation.
“Irrelevant of the sentencing result, my priority has always been my recovery and returning to full physical fitness.
“I would like to take this opportunity to thank everyone who assisted me or my family on the day of the incident and also the incredible NHS staff at Treliske [hospital] and the Derriford Burns Unit.
“Over the past few months, the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) at Newquay has worked relentlessly to proceed with this case.
“I would personally like to thank the team for all their hard work.
“We have been overwhelmed with the support from my colleagues, friends and the local community.
“I have received numerous kind gifts, videos and written messages of goodwill from persons unknown to me from all over the UK and as far away as Australia.
“This has been not only very humbling but a beneficial distraction to the incident.”
PC Mares added: “Sadly, since my incident, officers in London were subject to an attack and more prominently in the news was the tragic death of Sergeant Matt Ratana who was shot dead on duty in Croydon.
“Officers and staff know they have to take risks on occasions and understand that it comes with the nature of policing, but being assaulted on duty should never be condoned and seen as ‘part of the job’.”
PC Lenton said: “For all of us who were involved, directly or indirectly, the events of that day will always live with us and I hope we never have to deal with such a cowardly act again.
“The great news is that, after visiting Darral and his family, he will recover and I look forward to his humour and camaraderie in the office.
“I would be like to take this opportunity to extend both my and my family’s gratitude to colleagues/friends for their support following the assault.
“To mention all those who have sent kind words and gifts would take too long, but they know who they are, thank you. The messages have helped massively.
“Special mention for my wife Tammy and Matthew, James and Hannah for their continued understanding and empathy.”