A FIRE at a mosque initially treated as a hate crime by police was started by a desperate drug user cooking up heroin.

The blaze at the Hussaini Mission Mosque on George Street in the centre of Newport was unintentionally set by Matthew Hughes.

He got into the back of the building which was soon in flames after the items he was using to prepare his heroin fix caught fire.

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Hughes, who was using the drug to ease a painful medical condition, would not have known it was a mosque after entering it through a back lane.

The 44-year-old, who has 50 previous convictions for 145 offences, ended up causing £7,500 worth of damage, prosecutor Alexander Greenwood said.

Prayers, Islamic school and a funeral had to be cancelled at the mosque as a result of the inferno on March 28.

South Wales Argus:

The damage at the Hussaini Mission Mosque in Newport has been estimated to have cost £7,500

Hughes, of Pepys Grove, Newport, pleaded guilty to reckless arson.

His criminal record included offences for drugs, theft and burglary.

Scott Bowen, mitigating, said: “The defendant did not intend for any of this to happen.

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“He had no reason to start a fire and wants to apologise to the mosque and the community for the inconvenience caused.”

Judge Jeremy Jenkins told Hughes: “This was not a targeted premises, this was not a hate crime.

“The prosecution accept that this was not anything other than a reckless act albeit it had very serious consequences.

“You had gained access to the rear of the mosque through a lane.

“You had gone there to cook, as they call it, heroin because you said you were in extreme pain and you purchased that heroin earlier having unwisely discharged yourself from the local hospital where you were for treatment.

“Whist under the influence of that drug the matter that you were cooking the heroin up on caught fire and because it was a windy day that quickly took hold and caused significant damage to the rear of the mosque.

“This was a reckless act. You were arrested the next day and you expressed immediate remorse.”

The judge said there was no structural damage to the mosque.

The court was told the defendant had been held in custody since his arrest and had already served the equivalent of a 36-week prison sentence .

The sentencing guidelines recommended an eight-month prison term for his offence which would have led to him being released without further punishment.

Therefore, Judge Jenkins said, Hughes was being sentenced to a two-year community order with conditions.

The defendant must carry out 100 hours of unpaid work, complete 20 sessions of an accredited programme and made the subject of a rehabilitation activity requirement.

He was also ordered to pay £420 prosecution costs as well as a victim surcharge.