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Arsonist who torched nightclub in protest at Covid passports jailed for six years

·3-min read

A man who torched a Bristol nightclub and concert venue in protest at the possibility of it introducing Covid passports has been jailed for six years.

Owen Marshall, 29, caused hundreds of thousands of pounds of damage to SWX on Nelson Street in the centre of the city when he set light to a petrol-soaked towel he had forced into the letterbox.

The blaze on July 13 this year took place just a week before the venue was due to reopen post-lockdown, and also caused extensive damage to three neighbouring businesses.

It took 10 fire engines and 130 firefighters to bring the blaze under control.

The attack came two months after Marshall had delivered a letter to SWX threatening to burn it down.

A day after the arson attack, the defendant was captured on CCTV delivering a letter to the home of Bristol’s mayor, Marvin Rees, claiming responsibility.

In the letter, he claimed it was intended as a warning to other venues about Covid passports.

On July 28, Marshall, of Royate Hill in Eastville, Bristol, threw a brick through the window of the Barley Mow pub in Bedminster.

He wrapped the brick in a handwritten note claiming vaccine passports were a breach of human rights.

A few days later on August 2, Lakota, another city centre nightclub, received a letter saying it would “sustain substantial damage like SWX” if it introduced Covid passports.

Letter to Lakota
Marshall also threatened to burn Lakota if it introduced Covid-19 passports (Avon and Somerset Police/PA)

Marshall was tracked down after officers from Avon and Somerset Police combed hundreds of hours of CCTV footage from the streets around SWX, tracing him back to the shop where he bought the matches.

He was identified from the CCTV following a public appeal.

Marshall initially denied responsibility, but later admitted arson being reckless as to whether life was endangered, criminal damage and making threats to cause criminal damage at Bristol Crown Court.

Investigating officer Pc David Stevenson said: “Owen Marshall’s actions were motivated by the completely misguided belief the venues he targeted were about to introduce Covid vaccine passports.

“His obsession with Covid restrictions ultimately led to him carrying out the extremely reckless attack on SWX and it is only through sheer luck no one was physically harmed.

“Staff had been at the venue just hours before and they could easily still have been inside when he used an accelerant to start the fire.

“More than 130 fire service personnel were also put at risk tackling the resulting blaze, which took several hours to extinguish.”

He added: “The attack has had a devastating impact on the club and the three businesses based below it, with hundreds of thousands of pounds worth of damage and lost revenue caused.

“These were businesses which had all suffered as a result of the pandemic and which were looking forward to serving their community once more, only for their livelihoods to again be put in jeopardy.

“While Marshall has never explained his actions, I am pleased he ultimately accepted responsibility as it negated the need for a trial.”

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