A Storrington man who attempted to set his clothes on fire in a village supermarket in April admitted he ‘went nutty’.
Michael Spruhan, 52, of Windmill Copse, was found not guilty of arson with intent to endanger life this afternoon (Monday October 5) following a trial at Chichester Crown Court.
He had pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of arson being reckless as to whether life was endangered. He has been remanded in custody to be sentenced on November 9.
The charge relates to an incident at the Storrington branch of Waitrose on April 29.
Spruhan entered the supermarket and poured petrol over his head before striking a cigarette lighter.
Some petrol was splashed onto a woman, known to him, who was standing next to him at the checkout.
Paul Walker, defending, said Spruhan lost his job shortly before the incident, leading to a mental breakdown and suicidal thoughts.
He said: “He lost the job that he held dear for 30 years, and his new job involved working nights. He struggled to deal with the change in his sleep pattern and it led to a mental breakdown.
“He couldn’t sleep properly and his girlfriend was worried about him - he began to make bizarre accusations about her.
“He actually called the police and told them about the men following him and watching him constantly.
“He was acting in an irrational, unpredictable way - as far from a planned attack as it is possible to imagine.”
Spruhan’s petrol-soaked jumper caught fire but the flames were extinguished by a ‘quick-thinking’ member of the public, the court heard.
The woman suffered a small cut to her hand during the incident but was not seriously hurt.
Mr Walker said there were no ill feelings between the pair.
He said: “They got on and never had a cross word. In her mind, he was a nice, kind man.
“(The woman) happened to be there and she was next to him when he went to the store and put petrol on him and tried to set himself alight. There was no motive to attack her.”
Prosecutor Jonathan Edwards suggested Spruhan had planned to attack the woman.
He said: “Clearly Mr Spruhan was not acting rationally on April 29 but he was aware of what he was doing.”
Last week, the jury heard that Spruhan visited his parents on the day of the incident, where he obtained a knife from their kitchen and a plastic container from their shed.
He filled the container with petrol and made his way to the Tesco store in Storrington, where he doused himself with petrol.
He then left Tesco for Waitrose and sat on a bench outside before entering the supermarket.
Mr Edwards said: “(The woman) wasn’t aware of anything happening but she felt something cold running down her sleeve and turned around. He was holding a silver object in his hand.
“She said to him ‘why?’ He said words to the effect of ‘you know why’.”
Video footage of a police interview with Spruhan, conducted in the wake of the incident, was played in court. When asked why he had gathered the items, Spruhan responded: “I went nutty.”
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