A MAN who torched a treasured Blandford chapel has been jailed for three-and-a-half years.

John James Groom Sennett, aged 26, was sentenced at Dorchester Crown Court for what a judge described as an ‘appallingly insensitive’ crime.

Mark Ruffell, prosecuting, told the court that firefighters were called to the chapel at the town’s cemetery early on the morning of Sunday, September 15 last year and found a fire.

Examination of the scene revealed two broken windows where someone had entered and exited the chapel, which had been locked on the Friday night.

Also discovered were at least three areas where fires had been lit, including a lectern and a bible that had been set alight, and it appeared an accelerant had been used in places.

That morning attempted thefts of fuel from vehicles were also discovered at two locations in the town.

Blood found in the chapel and at the scene of the two attempted fuel thefts were found to match that of the defendant.

Sennett, of Castleman-Smith Close, Blandford, admitted the attempted thefts at his first appearance at court but initially denied the arson before changing his plea on the day he was due to stand trial.

The court was told he had 35 previous convictions for 69 offences.

The chapel that was damaged in the arson attack dates back to 1855 and was regularly used for services and funerals.

Mr Ruffell said the value of the damage was estimated at around £33,000 and the chapel had been closed since the incident.

He said: “This attack has been felt by the community in Blandford.”

Mr Ruffell said Blandford town clerk Linda Scott-Giles had described how town council staff responsible for the site were left ‘speechless’ and ‘emotional’ when they learned of the offence. Tom Horder, representing Sennett, said his client was genuinely sorry for the upset his actions had caused.

He said: “I hope the court can accept that this defendant now fully understands the seriousness of his actions and also the consequences.

“The consequences not just in terms of the physical damage, but the understandable feelings of outrage felt by those who know and use this chapel.”

Judge Roger Jarvis told the defendant: “Those actions that you took were appallingly insensitive to the feelings of very many people.”