A man has been jailed after causing a gas explosion which killed a two-year-old when he cut pipes to sell them for scrap metal.
Darren Greenham, 45, who was described as a “neighbour from hell” was sentenced to 15 years after pleading guilty to George Hinds manslaughter.
Greenham cut a gas pipe in his own property with an angle grinder, planning to steal the pipework, and bypassed the meter to steal gas.
A police investigation found Greenham was intent on selling the cut pipes for scrap metal and had boasted to witnesses that he would make £400 to buy a car.
George was only two years and 10 months old when he died in the resulting explosion at his family home in Mallowdale Avenue in May 2021.
‘Darren is a truly selfish and wicked man’
After the sentencing at Preston Crown Court, a police spokesman said: “Darren is a truly selfish and wicked man whose main motivation in the build-up to the fatal explosion was financial greed.
"His reckless actions caused the death of a completely innocent toddler and could easily have led to more deaths.
“No sentence will ever make up for the loss of George’s life or reflect the pain and misery Darren has caused.
"No one should put their child to bed at night, a place of safety, and not be able to see them alive again.”
‘I have lost my son, my absolute world’
George’s father Stephen Hinds clutched a Paw Patrol toy as he watched the sentencing from the public gallery with George’s mother, Vicki Studholme, and a number of other neighbours.
He had told the court on Tuesday: “By Darren Greenham cutting a gas pipe to make a few quid I have lost my son, my absolute world.”
He said Greenham, who was dependent on alcohol and drugs, made the lives of his neighbours a “misery”.
In a statement, George’s mother Vicki Studholme said she felt “unsafe” in her home because of Greenham, a “neighbour from hell” who she said made threats of violence towards her, her husband and their son.
She added: “After the explosion, being trapped in the rubble was the most scared I had ever been in my life.
“This was until I arrived at the hospital to be told that George had died.
“Never, ever have I felt so scared as in that moment of my life.”
Explosion damaged 55 properties
The court heard that the explosion at 2.36am destroyed the property Greenham lived in and severely damaged the two neighbouring terraced houses.
A total of 55 properties in the area were damaged.
Timothy Cray KC, prosecuting, said that at the time of the explosion the council was considering taking eviction proceedings after a number of complaints about Greenham’s behaviour.
He said: “He had been removing every bit of pipework he could for weeks before, seemingly because he knew he was going and he wanted to make what he could from selling it as scrap.”
The court heard the gas meter in the property had been altered so Greenham could receive gas without paying for it.
A report from the Health and Safety Executive after the explosion found wooden floorboards had been removed and gas pipes had been cut deliberately.
The blast was likely to have happened 20 to 40 minutes after they were cut and there would have been a strong smell of gas and an audible noise before that, the report said.
Peter Glenser KC, defending, said Greenham was sober for the first time in “many, many years” since being in custody awaiting sentence.
He said: “With that sobriety has come a clarity and an insight that he didn’t have through all his years of drink and drugs, and that clarity and insight has enabled him to see for the first time what terrible harm he has caused.”
Greenham, who suffered a serious head injury and lost most of the use of his right hand in the blast, pleaded guilty in August to manslaughter, damaging a gas meter and theft of gas.
In addition to the 15-year jail sentence, he was also given one month concurrent for theft of gas and damage to the gas meter.
‘Nothing can make up for the loss of George’
Joanna White, senior crown prosecutor with CPS North West, said: “This was a tragic case where a young boy lost his life through the reckless and dangerous actions of Darren Greenham, who cut the pipes for financial gain.
"Having considered the weight of evidence against him, Greenham pleaded guilty in August 2022.
“Nothing can ever make up for the loss of George in such tragic circumstances; my thoughts are very much with his family, who have carried themselves throughout the distressing proceedings in a dignified and exemplory manner and who I hope can find some comfort in knowing Greenham has been brought to justice.”