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Passengers had to be airlifted to safety as smoke filled the ferry’s corridors when Boden Hughes torched his cabin while smoking cannabis

Arsonist Boden Hughes has been jailed for 11 years after setting a North Sea ferry on fire while smoking cannabis in his cabin.

Hughes was so drunk he could barely walk or talk as he travelled to Amsterdam with friends aboard a DFDS ferry.

After being ejected from the ship’s casino for being too intoxicated, he went back to cabin number 568 alone and, as he tried to light a cannabis bong, the room went up in flames.

Damage caused by fire started on DFDS ferry by Boden Hughes

Damage caused by fire started on DFDS ferry by Boden Hughes

The crew were unable to bring the blaze under control using fire extinguishers and only the ship’s sprinkler system managed to douse the fire.

Many of the 946 passengers on board, including children and a pregnant woman, began to panic as smoke filled the narrow corridors of the ship.

A total of 27 people needed medical treatment for smoke inhalation while six passengers, including the pregnant woman, had to be winched to safety by a helicopter.

The drama unfolded around 25 miles out to sea aboard the King Seaways ferry, on December 28 last year.

As Hughes was jailed for that and a separate offence of stealing railway cable, it emerged the fire had left DFDS £800,000 out of pocket.

Judge James Goss QC, at Newcastle Crown Court, told him: “Passengers had to be evacuated from their cabins and there was panic and children were screaming.

“The fire caused enormous danger and panic and the total cost of the fire was £800,000.

“It was a spectacular piece of recklessness committed by a drunk man on bail at the time and the consequences could have been disastrous.

“Fires on a ship are even more serious than those on land because escape routes are limited and the stability of the vessel can be affected by the water used to put it out.”

The court heard Hughes, his girlfriend and others made a last minute decision to travel to Holland between last Christmas and New Year.

They took a bottle of vodka and drank that and other alcohol on board the ship after departing from North Shields.

Hughes then went off on his own for an hour, visiting the casino and consuming more drink.

Around 10pm he was trying to get back into his cabin but went to the wrong room. A member of security spotted him walking in a “zig zag fashion” and helped him back to his cabin.

Prosecutor Ian Lawrie QC said: “It was not easy to get him to the cabin, he had to keep steadying himself against the deck and walls.

“Eventually they got him in the cabin and it was within one minute or so that the fire alarm was activated on the main bridge.

“The response crew were asked to go to the deck and they found the corridor full of smoke.

“People were yelling and pushing each other in anticipation of the evacuation. One witness tells how she had to be winched into a helicopter while pregnant.”

Half-naked Hughes was partially out of his cabin and sprawled on the floor. When security picked him up he became aggressive and refused to do as he was told.

He was taken to another deck, where he then started fighting with James Curry, a friend of his.

In front of other, already terrified passengers, including children, the bare-chested pair started hitting each other and Curry also hit a member of security.

The pair were eventually detained and thrown in the ship’s cells as the captain aborted the trip and headed back to Tyneside.

The court heard DFDS had to pay £80,000 for repairs, £30,000 deviation costs, £25,000 medical evacuation costs, £475,000 for passenger liabilities, lost £170,000 in revenue and had to pay £25,000 legal costs.

Hughes, 27, of Fulwell Road, Sunderland, admitted arson being reckless as to whether life was endangered and affray for the fight with Curry. He got nine years for that plus two years for stealing copper cable from the rail network along with others.

Curry, 29, of Calshott Road, Sunderland, admitted assaulting a crew member during the fracas, threatening behaviour and the copper cable theft. He got three years and three months prison.

Christopher Morrison, for Hughes, said: “The person most at risk from this act of errant stupidity was the defendant.

“He wants to say he is extremely sorry, especially to those who had to be airlifted.”

Jane Foley, for Curry, said: “He became involved in a fight because of Hughes’ involvement with the incident which led to the fire.”

Newcastle Chronicle

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A FIRE on a North Sea ferry which sparked a major rescue operation when it was carrying around 1,000 people was started by a drunk passenger who was smoking cannabis in a cabin, a court has heard.

Boden George Hughes, 26, admitted arson being reckless as to whether life was endangered, during a brief hearing at Newcastle Crown Court, where his trial had been due to start.

The fire on the DFDS Newcastle to Amsterdam service happened at around 11pm on December 28 when the vessel was 30 miles off the North Yorkshire coast.

Six people were winched off the ferry by the RAF and helicoptered to hospital.

Hughes, who also admitted affray, pleaded guilty to arson on the basis that he was drunk, was smoking cannabis in a bong, and the fire started when his lighter’s flame set a pile of clothes ablaze.

He had altered his lighter so it produced a constant flame, he claimed.

Judge James Goss, the Recorder of Newcastle, will sentence Hughes, of Fulwell Road, Sunderland, in September.

Hughes was remanded in custody and warned to expect a lengthy prison sentence.

Judge Goss said: “Be under no illusions as to the seriousness of the crimes you have admitted today.

“This (arson) was a very serious offence which will attract a substantial sentence of imprisonment.”

Ian Lawrie QC, prosecuting, said figures will be produced at the next hearing to show the losses incurred by DFDS after the fire.

He said the helicopter rescue alone cost £50,000.

Mr Lawrie said a reconstruction of the fire showed that a blaze in a cabin using the same combustible clothing took just two minutes to engulf the space.

Hughes was guilty of “spectacular recklessness”, he said.

He added: “He was clearly drunk, he was clearly also on drugs.”

After the terrifying experience of a fire and rescue operation miles out to sea, Hughes’s fellow passengers faced the frustration of returning to Newcastle.

Passengers hugged family members in relief at the ferry terminal when they were finally allowed off, with some vowing never to sail again.

Julie Bell and Shaun Richardson, from Washington, Tyne and Wear, were on a weekend away.

At the time she said: “It was like a scene from a movie, a chaotic mess, horrible.

“It was terrifying and I won’t be travelling by boat again. I think I will stay in the UK from now on, it’s a lot safer.”

The King Seaways vessel was carrying 946 people at the time, plus crew.

RAF helicopters from Leconfield near Hull and Boulmer, Northumberland, were scrambled to the vessel along with RNLI lifeboats from Bridlington and Filey.

As he was led away, Hughes, dressed in a grey sweatshirt for the hearing, said: “Thank you, Your Honour.”

Sunderland Echo

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