Explosion at Leicester sub-station turned thief into fireball
A thief was turned into a human fireball and left burning on the floor by his accomplice after an explosion at a power sub-station they were trying to burgle.
Father-of-two Michael Harper (36) suffered serious burns and has been left permanently disfigured by the blast, which happened at an electricity sub-station under a railway arch in Constitution Hill, Highfields, Leicester.
While he lay on the floor on fire, accomplice Richard Boyce (50) took his car keys and tried to drive off.
He was later found by police with blistered hands.
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The explosion left 2,000 homes and businesses in Highfields without power and caused £26,500 of damage.
At a Leicester Crown Court hearing, Harper, of Rockingham Close, Rowlatts Hill, in the city, was jailed for a year after pleading guilty to burglary and criminal damage.
Boyce, of Harrison Road, Belgrave, Leicester, who admitted two other burglaries as well as the break-in and criminal damage at the sub-station, was jailed for four years.
Recorder Michael Stephens told Harper: "You have suffered a punishment, it seems to me, already.
"You were seriously injured and very nearly lost your life and will be permanently disfigured."
Speaking to Boyce, he said: "These crimes took place against a background of increased public concern about the rise in metal theft.
"It seems to be seen by some sections of the criminal fraternity as an easy option."
The two men broke into the sub-station at 10am on March 13 last year.
Sian Cutter, prosecuting, told the court there were "numerous" signs warning of the danger, as well as padlocks on the doors.
She said: "The sub-station provided electricity to Highfields and had two cables carrying 11,000 volts each into a transformer.
"Boyce claimed he had knowledge as an electrician and they began to strip the transformer of its copper cable."
Ms Cutter said that after Boyce had drained oil inside the conductors to insulate against electrical charges, there was an explosion which set fire to the oil.
She said: "Harper was left seriously injured as a result of the explosion and Boyce went off in his car."
She said Boyce told police the pair had gone to the sub-station to take heroin and that the explosion occurred when Harper urinated against the transformer.
David Watts, for Harper, said: "He has been left with permanent scarring.
"The injuries have led to the skin contracting on his face, which means he has difficulty eating.
"He suffers nightmares and has difficulty sleeping. In effect, he's received a life sentence and is never going to recover from his injuries.
"He told the police who arrived 'I thought I was going to die'.
"Boyce took his car keys and was making good his escape, leaving him burning on the ground."
Mr Watts said Harper was a carer for his mother – a role which he took "extremely seriously".
Steven Newcombe, for Boyce, said: "Drugs drive the kind of behaviour which led to one of his friends suffering horrendous injuries, all in pursuit of the purchase of drugs."