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Carterton school arsonist becomes priest
A MAN who burned down his school as a 17-year-old has been ordained as a priest.
Nearly three decades have passed since Martin Hartley set fire to Carterton Comprehensive School – now Carterton College – and burnt it to the ground, causing £1m worth of damage.
He was jailed for two and a half years in 1984, but called the moment a “wake-up call”.
Now the 46-year-old has been ordained as a priest, many years after finding God. The father of four said: “I became involved in drink and drugs at a fairly young age.
“I couldn’t have reformed by myself. If it was left to me I would have ended up in the gutter somewhere.
“It was with the help of my faith I managed to do that.
“Everyone who knew me before would be gobsmacked. Absolutely no one would have thought of Martin Hartley ending up as a vicar, least of all me.”
Mr Hartley left school without a single qualification and as a teenager spent his free time drinking and smoking cannabis.
His tearaway lifestyle came to a head in July 1984 when he broke into his former school.
He said: “We’d been drinking and taking other stuff and for some reason I thought it would be good to break into the school – after spending years trying to get out of it.
“I had a really rough time at school. I went through school wondering why I couldn’t do what other people were doing. I later found out that I was dyslexic but school lost interest in me and I lost interest in school.
“Once I got inside there was this flashback of all the negativity and all the stuff that had gone on there and I started venting a bit of frustration. It began with turning over tables but ended up setting a small fire – and it spread and ended up causing £1m of damage.”
The blaze ripped through the upper floor of the school’s lower block and about 12 classrooms were put out of use. After the fire Carterton School launched an appeal for new equipment the education authority would not replace.
Builders worked flat out to get 14 temporary classrooms to house 200 pupils open for the start of term in September 1984.
Mr Hartley was sentenced later that year to two-and-a-half years in prison – which he served at Portland Prison, near Weymouth – after pleading guilty to arson.
When he left prison he went into engineering and worked at Crawford Collets in Witney.
He was arrested again, this time for threatening behaviour, but it was soon recognised that he was having a mental breakdown and instead of a return to prison, he was taken to a secure mental health hospital unit.
It was when he left the hospital, said motorcyclist Mr Hartley, that he had his epiphany and went on to become a Christian.
After working for many years, redundancy led him to move to Sheffield in 2003 to train as a Church Army evangelist.
He was ordained as a curate at Norwich Cathedral in June and has since become vicar of St Mary’s Church at Tasburgh in Norfolk.
He said: “Prison was the first time that I had come into contact with church. I decided to go on a Sunday because it was something to do. It was outside the prison and we were marched there.
“After 16 months I was let out and came back to the same place, going round with the same people, except in some ways I was a bit of local hero, because I had burned down the school.
“I got taken out, bought drinks and soon found myself with a bit of a drink issue.
“I was drinking a lot, experimenting with harder drugs. I was still working, but when I wasn’t at work, as a machine operator, I was putting something into my body.”
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