TWO TEENAGERS have been found guilty of starting the fire which caused damage running into millions of pounds at the Crumbles Retail Park in the run up to Christmas last year.
The two are both from Eastbourne but cannot be named because of legal reasons.
They will be sentenced on December 7 but a judge has ruled out any custodial sentence.
The 18-year-old and 17-year-old youth both admitted starting the fire on the night of December 11 last year but denied reckless intent.
The police and prosecution accepted they did not start the fire intentionally but said the two had acted recklessly.
The blaze was started at the rear of the shops and caused major structural damage to Boots and smoke damage to Next, Matalan and Sports Direct.
It is reckoned to have cost £9 million in damage to the retail park
Boots was totally rebuilt and all the stores were forced to close for several weeks during the run up to Christmas – their busiest time of year – and throw away hundreds of thousands of pounds of stock.
During a two day trial at Hastings Youth Court, a district judge heard how the two boys – and another friend – had wanted to use cardboard stored in three metal trolleys at the back of the retail park to build a bonfire on the beach.
Rather than carry the cardboard down to the beach only to find it was wet and wouldn’t light, they tried to see if it would burn.
The court heard one of the trolleys filled with cardboard quickly caught fire and got out of control. As they left the scene they heard sirens from the emergency services.
More than 80 firefighters tackled the blaze as it ripped through the store. Shoppers were evacuated and no one was hurt.
The two teenagers, aged 16 and 17 at the time of the fire, were arrested a few days later and charged with arson in July this year. The third boy was not charged.
After the court hearing Detective Constable Alex Campbell said, “We are satisfied with the result.
“This caused major disruption to the retailers and local community at the time.
“Fortunately no one was injured. We hope this shows that we will arrest and prosecute those who carry out such crimes.”
The two boys will return to the court in December and in the meantime pre-sentence reports are being prepared.