Oct 24 2013
A former mayor who had an "active interest in pyrotechnics" was jailed for 18 years today after he was found guilty of setting off dangerous explosions in his own neighbourhood.
North Wales town councillor John Larsen got a "thrill" from setting off the blasts, some of which sent ball bearings and metal shrapnel flying up to 90ft (27m) away, a court heard.
Larsen, 46, of Lenten Pool, Denbigh, was convicted of three counts of arson, one of causing an explosion likely to endanger life and another of possessing explosives with intent to endanger life by a jury of six men and six women at Caernarfon Crown Court.
Judge Merfyn Hughes QC sentenced him to a total of 18 years in prison.
The trial heard that Larsen made his own Improvised Explosive Device (IED) which he used to blow up a car near his home and was the man behind a string of explosions which had been causing fear in the community.
In his opening address, Wyn Lloyd Jones, prosecuting, told the jury that, after Larsen's arrest on April 19, this year, police found files on his home computer containing research notes about how to make explosives and that he was actively "experimenting".
One file was named "gunpowder mix" while another was named "experimentation" - that file contained notes about charges, fuses, flash powder, "rockets and shells," and notes about various chemicals.
The court was told that, just days after the files were created, explosions were reported in the Lenten Pool area.
Mr Lloyd Jones said it was "fortunate indeed" that nobody had been injured by the biggest explosion caused by an IED on March 24 this year which sent ball bearings and metal shrapnel flying up to 90ft (27m) away, smashing windows of nearby properties and damaging cars.
Larsen, who was working as a Liberal Democrat town councillor until his arrest, had been Mayor of Denbigh in 1999 and was a member of the local Neighbourhood Watch.
Mr Lloyd Jones said: "It's highly likely, the prosecution say, that the defendant, John Larsen, was getting a thrill from what he was doing and the attention that these events were generating."
The court heard that Larsen even gave interviews to the media when police were inquiring about the cause of the explosions.
"Items recovered by the police from his home and his computer reveal a most active interest in pyrotechnics and explosives," the prosecutor added.
Larsen denied the charges and told the court he was making fireworks, not bombs, which he had set off in his back garden.
He told the court he bought some chemicals for magic tricks and others for fireworks.
The former stonemason said he did magic shows for family and friends.
The trial was told that members of the Denbigh community had been reporting "loud bangs and explosions" and plumes of black smoke late at night for several weeks and a number of cars had been damaged.
The series of smaller explosions apparently started in February and led up to the main explosion on March 24.
Mr Lloyd Jones said the IED was "something akin to a bomb" and was placed under a Land Rover Discovery.
The prosecutor said one of Larsen's neighbours witnessed him going out at around 12.45am and "bending down" by the vehicle as if to look under it.
The court heard that neighbours reported windows shaking and a bang sounding like "the boom of a cannon".
"It will come as no surprise to you that these events brought fear to the local community," the barrister told the jury.
The court heard that Larsen had also been reporting his "concerns" about explosions to the police.
But the prosecutor said this was an attempt to "put police off the scent" and Larsen's actions amounted to a breach of the community's trust in him.
The court heard that the explosions carried on after the IED was set off on March 24 and did not stop until Larsen was arrested.
Searches of the defendant's home found a book about "the chemistry of pyrotechnics", a bag of 50 ball bearings, various powders and chemicals, a pestle and mortar, flares, modified fireworks and rockets and four other similar IEDs.
Detective Chief Inspector Andrew Williams said: "This was a unique case. On one hand we had a man who publically presented as a pillar and voice of the local community who people went to for advice and comfort in a time of crisis; on the other we had a cold and calculating individual who quite obviously revelled in the attention he created for himself through the setting of improvised explosive devices in the Lenten Pool area of Denbigh."
"The community had been rocked by what became a series of explosions, culminating in the detonation of a metal ball bearing filled device causing extensive damage and firing shrapnel through a nearby house window. It is extremely fortunate that no one was seriously injured or in the vicinity at that particular time," he said.
"During this period, John Larsen came to the fore as a local leader and the community trusted him. He betrayed that trust in a terrible way and he now faces the consequences of his actions.
"We welcome the sentence passed today."
Karen Dixon, district Crown Prosecutor for the Crown Prosecution Service Wales, said: "John Larsen's incredibly reckless behaviour caused damage to property, as well as significant alarm and distress to many residents of Lenten Pool. In many ways it is simply good fortune that his actions did not have far more serious consequences.
"John Larsen is an individual who has held positions of trust and responsibility within the local community and it is disappointing that he chose to abuse the trust that many local people had placed in him. He has failed to take any responsibility for his actions and it is right that he has now been forced to face up to his offences in a criminal court."