A ‘thrill-seeking’ fire raiser destroyed a mobile coffee van as it was parked just feet from its owners’ home in Dartmouth.

Michael Sroka had been drinking and smoking cannabis before he walked past the tuk-tuk style van which was on a trailer at the top of a steep hill. His initial plan was to untether it and watch it roll away, which he thought would be funny.

He only managed to get it half way off its flat-bed trailer and then sought out a friend, borrowed a lighter, and applied it to a pipe beneath the chassis which carried gas.

The horrified owners heard a loud bang and looked out to see the van in flames. It was completely destroyed with damage costed at £16,771. The owners had given up careers to start a new life running the business and feared they would be ruined.

Their insurance company refused their claim and they had to fight for months before they agreed a partial payment, which left them £5,000 out of pocket. They also had to wait three months for a new van to be built, and the price of the new one proved higher than the original.

The couple wrote an impact statement saying they were devastated by their loss and no longer feel secure at their home in Dartmouth.

Sroka, aged 20, who was homeless at the time but is now being housed in a hotel in Torbay, admitted arson and was jailed for eight months, suspended for 21 months, and to pay £1,500 compensation by Judge David Evans at Exeter Crown Court.

He told him: “You had been out and about in Dartmouth that evening and were intoxicated with drink and drugs on board. You saw the vehicle. You did not know the owners and were not targeting them.

“You tried to remove it from the trailer and it seems what you wanted was to let it roll down the hill for a laugh, but you were thwarted by the fastening. Then, inexplicably, you decided, after asking a friend who lived nearby for a lighter, to set light to the pipework underneath the van.

“The only explanation you could give is that you were effectively thrill seeking while intoxicated. It seems you gave little thought to the colossal harm you caused, which was very significant indeed.

“It extended to psychological and emotional impacts on the owners, as they have outlined in their personal statement.”

Miss Beth Rickerby, prosecuting, said the coffee kiosk and trailer had been parked 60 feet from the owners’ home in Dartmouth for less than an hour on September 17, 2022, when they heard a loud bang and saw it engulfed in flames.

There were two cars nearby and there was a danger of the fire spreading, although this did not happen. Sroka was arrested at the scene and admitted what he had done, saying he thought initially it would be funny to see the van roll down the hill but then set light to it when he failed to get it off the trailer.

The owners’ victim impact statement said they had given up careers to start a new business which had effectively been destroyed, forcing them to wait for months before they could re-start it.

Mr William Parkhill, defending, said Sroka was an 18-year-old care leaver at the time who was homeless and living a chaotic life in which he was drinking and using cannabis.

He was not receiving the support normally offered to care leavers but has now accessed help and treatment for autism and ADHD and is working as a radio operator for a taxi firm.