Gangland henchman torched cars with four children inside home

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A gangland henchman torched two cars outside a young family's Formby home in a mystery attack.

James Adrian poured petrol on Elliot Hope and Elizabeth Johnson's Jaguar XF and Volkswagen Golf in the dead of night.

The convicted gun crook then set the vehicles ablaze – endangering the lives of the sleeping couple and their four children.

Miraculously, Mr Hope had fallen asleep in a downstairs bedroom without any curtains and was quickly able to alert his partner.

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He and Ms Johnson – a midwife who had just finished a gruelling 12-hour shift – then managed to rush their children to safety.

Burnt out car on the driveway on Queens Road, Formby.

A court today heard it was the second arson attack at the couple's three storey, semi-detached home in Queens Road in five months.

But the victims said they were at a loss to understand why they were targeted by 46-year-old Adrian, of Midland Terrace, Waterloo.

And the convicted drug dealer – once locked up for six and a half years for stashing a loaded revolver in his girlfriend’s house – refused to explain.

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Adrian, originally from Toxteth, sped away in the early hours of March 31, but his frantic escape raised the suspicions of a police patrol car.

Officers caught him on the Formby bypass and found an empty petrol can, plus gloves covered in petrol, in his Ford Fiesta.

Liverpool Crown Court heard the couple had installed a CCTV camera outside their home after the first incident last November.

Michael Stephenson, prosecuting, said footage on March 31 showed Adrian equipped with a two litre drink container and a small hammer.

He was captured on the recording pouring liquid over the vehicles and police found the container discarded in a litter bin.

Flames led to the hall and ground floor of the family’s home, filling it with thick smoke, and caused extensive damage to the front door and window frames, including that of the bedroom where Mr Hope's son was sleeping.

The couple and the children, aged between eight and 13, fled through the conservatory into the rear garden and called firefighters.

Adrian, who the court heard is not known by the couple, remained silent in a police interview and has never revealed any motive.

The crook, of Midland Terrace, Waterloo, admitted two offences of arson being reckless as to whether lives were endangered.

Mr Stephenson said: "Someone is sufficiently hostile to one or both of the couple to have arranged two arson attacks at their home in the space of five months . They don't know or say who that could be.

"The alternative is that two unrelated arson attacks at the same address have happened. The defendant doesn't appear to have any motive of his own – so he did what he did for reward.

"There are convictions in his past of the sort associated with organised crime, including drug supply and possession of firearms and ammunition."

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The prosecutor said a letter written by Adrian "does not shed any light on the reasons for his actions".

Mr Stephenson said: "He makes reference to drugs and the importance of respect – which is sometimes a feature of gang activity".

He added that it appeared to be "some form of revenge attack" with a "significant degree of planning".

In a victim impact statement, Mr Hope told the court the blaze caused £40,000 of damage in total.

He said because of the coronavirus pandemic his family have not been able to get new cars or have house repairs carried out and are living with the front door and windows boarded up.

James Adrian, then 35, when he was jailed for six and a half years for hiding a gun loaded with six bullets in his girlfriend's house

Mr Hope said their children remained frightened and his son, who had been living with them, has now gone back to live with his mum.

Ms Johnson said she was shocked and saddened, adding: "The children are frightened it will happen again."

The victim said she was off work from her job at Liverpool Women's Hospital for three weeks but returned because she didn't want to let colleagues down.

Adrian's criminal record includes affray and twice possessing ammunition in the 1990s, 33 months in prison for dealing Class A and B drugs in 2006, and possessing a handgun and ammunition in 2009.

Julian Nutter, defending, said a letter from his client to the court showed "there is an element of remorse and a resolution to better himself and turn over a new leaf".

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He said: "The only thing that can be said about this horrible offence is that it could have been far worse and thankfully it was not."

Mr Nutter said the attack targeted the cars, not the house itself, and that Adrian had no choice but to remain silent as to the motive.

He said: "He wouldn't last long in the prison in which he is to be detained if he were to start pointing fingers and naming names and saying what lies behind it – but he does not dispute the Crown’s interpretation of it."

Jailing the thug for six years and ordering the forfeiture of his Ford Fiesta, Judge Brian Cummings, QC, said: "This was an appallingly dangerous thing to do.

"There is no clarity as to what the precise background is to all of this, but it has all the hallmarks of a gangland attack and there is a tacit acceptance of that fact of your behaviour."

James Adrian, 46, torched two cars outside a Formby family's home

The judge pointed out that his comment was not "to cast any aspersions against the victims".

He said: "There is nothing to indicate you personally had any grievance against any of the occupants of this house and the Crown put the matter on the basis you were doing this for reward."

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Judge Cummings said the arson had also posed a potential risk to neighbours, adding: "Does torching two cars very close to a building at 2am, with all those occupants carry a high risk of very serious physical harm?

"My answer is, of course it does."

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