Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Bruce George Peter Lee

Love Affair with Flames

By the age of 9, young Peter's love affair with flames had already begun. He loved bonfires, and neighbor Shaun Lister later recalled going with him to light a fire at a timber yard, which he later burnt down. At the same age, Lee also admitted starting a fire in a shopping precinct which caused £17,000 ($30,000) worth of damage.

Other contemporaries said he was frustrated at not being able to do the same things other children did and later claimed his disability scuppered his ambition of being a trawlerman.

He spent much of his teens in and out of care homes while his mother was either unable or unwilling to care for him. It was while there that he was introduced to homosexuality and the "rent boy" network in the local area.

As a teenager, he worked at the local speedway stadium and the local pig market. A staff member at the stadium said: "I used to feel sorry for him because the other lads would make fun of him. He never seemed to get upset. He seemed so quiet and unassuming and didn't stand out in a crowd."

He would also babysit for local children in exchange for spending money and on one occasion actually brought home a small black boy, claiming he was his son.

While "Daft Peter" was rarely regarded as capable of anything spectacular, some believe that the "daftness" was often an act to help him fade into the background. Sometimes he would tell people he was "a nobody," but then he would tell them they would never guess what he had been up to.

As the Hastie inquiry proved, he was entirely correct on that point.

Throughout his teenage years, he started fires on a regular basis — over 30 that are known, and others which were either never reported or which he himself forgot about. What he lacked in conventional intelligence, he made up for in "animal cunning" (to use the phrase later coined by the prosecuting counsel in the case, Gerald Coles) in the way he covered his tracks after fires.

After his arrest he told Det. Supt Sagar, "I know when I'm going to start a fire because my fingers tingle."

While in prison awaiting trial he regularly demanded access to bibles, and was interested in the Jehovah's Witness movement.

He read Sagar a passage from Matthew 6:24, which said "No man may serve two masters." "My master is fire," he concluded.

The passage goes on to state that if a man did have two masters he should despise one but be devoted to the other.

Lee told Sagar: "I am devoted to fire and despise people."

He especially hated people who had a home, he said, because he had never really had one.

His mother, on the other hand, was typically unsympathetic. "He just wanted to get in the headlines," she commented after his arrest.


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