Man admits setting fire to doors of Edinburgh Sikh temple because he wanted to ‘watch it burn down’
A man who has “issues” with religion has admitted setting fire to the doors of a Sikh temple and a church.
Paul Johnson used petrol to ignite the doors of Edinburgh’s Guru Nanak Sikh Temple and Leith Methodist Church this summer because he wanted to make a “political statement”.
He told police he wanted to watch the premises burn down and hoped to be arrested.
Johnson, 49, admitted two charges of willful fireraising, aggravated by religious prejudice, on August 28 when he appeared at the High Court in Edinburgh on Thursday. He will be sentenced next month.
The court heard the attack on the Sikh temple , to the danger of life of a family inside, was unplanned and was only carried out when unemployed Johnson came across the building.
It also heard how, on the evening of August 27, Johnson bought a container and, later, fuel worth £3.51 from a local petrol station.
Shortly before 5am on August 28, a man heading to the temple to pray spotted that fire had taken hold on one side of one of the doors and immediately raised the alarm with a man sleeping inside in the family quarters.
The fire service was then alerted and used two engines, two high reach vehicles and 11 firefighters to bring the blaze under control.
Around a couple of hours later, the caretaker at Leith Methodist Church noticed a smell of petrol and burning and cleaned up the area around the front door after realising there was no fire damage of note.
He later contact police after hearing about the incident at the temple.
CCTV footage from the area around the church between 12.03am and 12.13am showed Johnson approaching the church door, with a flash of light then visible.
Footage from the temple from 12.38am to 1.07am revealed him then approaching the door with a jerry can and lighting a piece of paper.
He returned on two further occasions during that time to light more paper and throw it towards the door before running away.
Police arrested Johnson after spotting him in Leith in the early hours of August 30.
Asked about his involvement in the two fires, he immediately told officers: “I did it.”
Advocate depute Alan Cameron told the court: “He stated that around midnight he walked to the Methodist Church in Leith and poured fuel on the doors before using a lighter to set fire to pieces of paper which he threw on the fuel.
“He stated that a small fire started but quickly went out. He stayed in the immediate area for some time but no emergency services attended.”
Johnson then walked around Leith and, on seeing the Sikh temple, set fire to its front doors using the same method.
Mr Cameron continued: “He stated that a small fire caught and he stayed in the locus as he wanted to be arrested by the police, however no emergency services attended.
“The accused stated that his intention in buying the petrol was to start the fire at the Methodist church and that the fire-raising at the Sikh temple was not planned and was only carried out when he came across the building.
“The accused was asked as to his motivation for the fires and stated that he was looking to make a political statement, but would not provide further details.
“When asked whether this was religiously motivated he stated that he has no issue with any particular religion but his issues are with religion and God in general.
“The accused was asked what his intention was by setting fire to the building and he stated that he wanted to watch them burn down.”
Johnson, listed as a prisoner in Edinburgh, has a previous conviction for culpable and reckless conduct, which earned him a four-month jail sentence in 2017.
Judge Lord Boyd deferred sentencing in the case until November 15.