A ‘keen amateur photographer’ accidentally started a large mill fire, a court has heard.

Richard Hilley, 39, had been out with two other photographers on the night of Sunday January 31 last year when they decided to set sparks flying to create an artistic effect at Pioneer Mills, Radcliffe.

But Minshull Street Crown Court heard how events spiralled out of control when the sparks hit a pile of elastic behind a fence at the mill, igniting a huge blaze.

Juliet Berry, prosecuting, said: “He didn’t set the fire deliberately but he accepts that he saw smoke in the are and left.”

She added: “He expresses regret that he did not call the fire brigade.”

The Bolton News: The case was heard at Minshull Street Crown CourtThe case was heard at Minshull Street Crown Court (Image: Newsquest)

Ms Berry explained that Hilley, of Seddon Gardens, Radcliffe, had arrived at the industrial estate off Milltown Street planning to take photographs with two companions.

He created the sparks by attaching wire to a whisk which he then spun causing fragments of wire to light up.

But some of those sparks landed on piled up elastic at a recycling centre behind a fence where Hilley was spinning his wire.

When the fire started, the defendant and his two friends quickly gathered up their equipment and left.

Hilley did not call the fire brigade because he had been told another of his part had already done so and crews arrived on the scene within minutes.

He then pleaded guilty to arson at the first possible opportunity.

No one was injured in the fire and the Crown Prosecution Service have not been able to put an exact figure on the cost of the damage.

Ms Berry said: “It is clear that the defendant didn’t deliberately start the fire but his action was reckless.”

Rachel Cooper, defending, argued that Hilley, who has never been in trouble with the courts or police before had clearly not planned for the blaze to happen and had in fact suggested a different location to his fellow photographers.

She pointed out that he did not know there was elastic piled up behind the fence where he had been causing the sparks and claimed that at first he was unaware the fire had started.

But Ms Cooper said that Hilley accepted that causing the sparks and then leaving was ‘a very foolish decision.’

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Recorder Michael Blakey accepted that Hilley’s actions had been accidental and that he was ‘extremely remorseful.’

But he said that if the owner of the recycling plant wanted to pursue costs for the damage done to his property by the fire, he would be free to do so through other means.

Where Hilley himself was concerned, Recorder Blakey believed he was unlikely to commit and further offences.

Addressing the defendant, he said: “It’s very unlikely that we’ll see you coming through these doors again and I hope that we don’t.”

Recorder Blakey sentenced Hilley to a 12 month community order with 40 hours of unpaid work.