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Blaze at St Austell blackmail victim's property

By Cornish Guardian  |  Posted: July 15, 2013

  • Firefighters battling the blazing caravan at the former home of David Steer, Bethel Road, on Thursday.

  • FAMILIAR SCENE: Firefighters battling the blazing caravan at the former home of David Steer, Bethel Road, on Thursday. : Paul Crowther

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FED-UP residents are calling for action after arsonists targeted the former home of a St Austell blackmail victim.

Their words come after firefighters were scrambled to an empty detached house in Bethel Road on Thursday evening at about 8.10pm.

In June 2006 Gary Chapman was sentenced to six years in prison, after he was convicted of blackmailing the former owner of the property, David Steer, who has since died, following a complicated police inquiry.

Crews battled the blaze which had ripped through a caravan in the grounds of the property and threatened to engulf the boarded-up building.

Witnesses have described the flames at the height of the fire as leaping higher than the two-storey home and of smoke billowing high across the sky. Police have confirmed the blaze is being treated as arson.

Families living near to the property say this is the latest in a string of incidents which have plagued the property since it was left unoccupied.

Previously it has been used as a hangout for squatters and people living on the street claim it has fallen into such disrepair it is only a matter of time before someone gets hurt.

One neighbour, who did not wish to be named, said she didn't notice the fire until her friend telephoned to warn her.

"I looked out and the flames were higher than the roof."

She then called other neighbours to warn them.

The trouble spot needs to be "knocked down", she added.

Another resident said: "We're all fed up with it. The council has been notified about what has happened there before but it has not helped. Something needs to be done."

There is worry on the street about what will happen next, he added.

During Chapman's trial Truro Crown Court was told how he had forced David Steer into signing over half of his home to his son, Marty, by threatening to expose him for dishonesty regarding his benefits claims, having photographed him at work.

He was also found guilty of witness intimidation.

Chapman's co-defendant, David Custance received four and a half years in jail for the part he played in the blackmail and for causing Mr Steer – described as vulnerable and childlike – to fear violence would be used against him.

A year later their jail sentences were cut on appeal by judges. Last June Chapman escaped a custodial sentence for threatening to kill a Truro-based police officer and assaulting a magistrate.

Mr Steer's family inherited the property but live in London.

A Cornwall Council spokesperson said they had been working with the family to refurbish the building for a number of years but had hit difficulties due to "legal issues".

She added the issues were now resolved and the "council is doing all it can" to support the owners in returning the property to use.

Anyone with information is asked to call PC Mike Barnett on 101 quoting GA13/1954.

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  • josdave  |  July 15 2013, 8:33AM

    If it encourages whoever owns the property now to either demolish and rebuild or sell it as is for a developer to do the same it will have had a positive effect. For too long now this house, just around the corner from me, has been an eyesore and something has been needed.

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