A drug addict went on a national arson spree targeting hospitals, hotels and museums so he could raid their tills.

Thomas Ashcroft, 35, started small fires in some of Brighton’s best-known attractions so he could empty their cash tills as they were being evacuated.

He did the same in Crawley, Rotherham, Sheffield, Manchester and Kent, sparking a nationwide hunt for him.

The crimes only stopped when Ashcroft gave himself up to police.

Jailing him for eight years at Canterbury Crown Court yesterday, Judge James O’Mahony described his actions as “sheer premeditated wickedness” for putting innocent lives at risk.

Prosecutor Martin Yale told the court that homeless Ashcroft went on his arson spree in an attempt to feed his £250-a-day crack cocaine and heroin addiction.

He started his campaign in south Yorkshire, following his release from prison.

Brighton targets

A hospital in Rotherham and hotels in Sheffield and Manchester were targeted before he turned his attention to Brighton and Hove.

First he set fire to a quilt at the Royal Albion Hotel on August 26.

While guests were being evacuated, Ashcroft made his way into the seafront hotel before stealing £75 from the till.

The following day he targeted the Sea Life Centre where he used the same tactic to take £50.

Later that day he moved onto the Brighton Dome, where he set fire to clothes to steal £82 from the cafe.

Sussex hit

He also targeted the Hilton Hotel at Gatwick before turning his attention to Crawley Hospital.

Once inside, he set fire to cotton balls in a cupboard before taking £200 from the hospital cafe till.

A day later he crossed the border into Kent where he targeted the Medway Maritime in Gillingham followed by the Kent and Canterbury hospital on August 30.

Giving his address as no fixed address, he pleaded guilty to arson and burglary.

'Wracked by drugs'

Peter Forbes, defending Ashcroft, said: “This man plainly has been wracked by drug addiction for many years.

“To his credit, he handed himself in and he realised that the situation was spiralling out of control.”

Judge O’Mahony said: “It must have frightened vulnerable and sick people, not to mention, of course, the staff.

“It also caused huge losses of money to honest taxpayers to what is a national institution – the NHS.”

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