A anti-Semitic radiographer set his hair on fire when he attempted to burn down Exeter synagogue believing he had been possessed by the Norse god Loki, a court heard.
White supremacist Tristan Morgan, 52, who worked at the Royal Devon and Exeter NHS trust, tried to torch Britain’s third oldest synagogue on 21 July last year.
He broke a window at the rear of the 18th century building before pouring fuel inside and setting it ablaze with a piece of burning paper.
But the flames engulfed him, blowing his hat off and setting his hair on fire.
The synagogue was saved thanks to the efforts of passers-by who fought the flames with extinguishers before firefighters arrived at the scene.
When police searched Morgan’s home they recovered a fearsome collection of 24 knives.
Morgan appeared in court via videolink, wearing all black clothing, a long black beard, and shaggy black hair.
Alistair Richardson, prosecuting, told the court: ‘The defendant holds deep rooted anti-Semitic beliefs, embodied in a desire to do harm to the Jewish community and an obsession with abhorrent anti-Semitic material.
‘In support of his cause, and offensive beliefs, he made his own songs exhorting others to violence against the Jewish community.’
The prosecutor added: ‘At 7.50pm on Saturday 21 July 2018, Zoe Baker and her partner were walking through Exeter City Centre.
‘She heard a large bang and looked in the direction it had come from.
‘She could see an orange glow and smoke coming from a building that she subsequently found out was Exeter synagogue.
‘Concerned as to whether anyone had been hurt, they stopped.
‘She saw a man, the defendant, walking from the direction of the synagogue.
‘He was carrying a green petrol can.
‘He appeared to be laughing, whilst attempting to flatten his hair, which she described as looking like it had been’ whooshed up’.
Mr Richardson told the court that Ms Baker and her partner were concerned that more smoke appeared to be coming from the synagogue and that she saw the defendant get into a white Mercedes Vito van and drive off.
He said: ‘She described the defendant driving it, looking cocky.
‘She noted down the registration number of the van, flagged down a passing police car, and provided the details to the police officers.’
The court heard that Ms Baker’s partner, Samuel O’Brien, along with Jane Densham, a member of staff from nearby Mecca bingo, used fire extinguishers to tackle the fire.
‘A large amount of smoke continued to come from the building,’ Mr Richardson said.
‘Firefighters entered the building and found a smouldering fire within it, which they
were able to damp down.
‘A gas boiler was located in the room where the fire had taken place.
‘Firefighters noted their surprise that the boiler had not been involved, given the severity of the fire.
‘They commented how different the incident could have been had the boiler exploded.’
Morgan was described as ‘schizoptypal’ in court, a personality disorder that can lead to psychotic episodes.
Three consultant psychiatrists agreed that he was suffering a psychotic episode at the time of the fire.
The court heard he published a song on the website Soudcloud called ‘White Man’, which encouraged terrorism.
It was even played on Radio Free Northwest, an openly white nationalist radio station.
The lyrics of that song went: ‘White Man: the time has come to fight!
‘White Man: It’s time to make a stand!
‘White Man: you must kill your enemy!
‘White Man: for your children to be free!
‘Expel the Parasite.’
He was also caught with a document titled ‘White Resistance Manual’ said to be useful to those preparing an act of terror.
John Sandford, a consultant psychiatrist who interviewed Morgan told the court that the neo Nazi was in the midst of a psychotic episode.
He said: ‘Schizoptypal disorder crosses the boundary between schizophrenia and a personality disorder.’
The doctor gave one example of Morgan’s mental illness ‘like his ability to see Norse Gods in the flames.’
Tara Wolfe, defending told the court that her client had been working full time as a radiographer before the incident.
She added: ‘He never treated any of his patients any differently.’
Ms Wolfe said: ‘He believed that he may have been possessed by Loki at the time of the incident.’
She added that her client was of previous good character, that he did not have a history of violence, and that he had only received mental health treatment after the incident.
Judge Anthony Leonard, QC, told the court:’ It is difficult, if impossible, for me to imagine the stress that your actions caused the Jewish community as a whole, and the worshippers of that particular synagogue.
‘In my judgment there can be no real dispute that in the mental state you were in at the time that you were dangerous.’
He said: ‘In my judgement although your offending has to be considered against your long held beliefs it is more attributable to your mental disorder at the time.
He sent Morgan to a secure mental hospital order under Section 37 of the Mental Health Act. No restriction order was made but the judge also passed a ten year terrorism notification order.
Morgan of Alexandra Terrace, Exeter, admitted one count of collecting information that would be useful to a person preparing a terrorist act.
He also admitted arson, accepting he was reckless as to whether lives were endangered, and encouraging terrorism.
The court hear that the fireball knocked Morgan off his feet and burnt his forehead and hair.
When police arrived at his Exeter home shortly afterwards Morgan’s first words were: ‘That didn’t take long.’
Officers noticed that he smelt of petrol and his upper right arm was still hot to the touch, even though he had thrown water over himself to try and cool his burns.
Morgan said: ‘Please tell me that synagogue is burning to the ground, if not, it’s poor preparation.’
As he was arrested and cautioned he asked: ‘Do you believe in race?’
The cost of repairs to the grade two listed building was £23,656.