A JOBLESS young dad who attempted to send a Hampshire job centre up in flames after watching rioting in London on TV has been jailed for three-and-a-half years.

Police said Tobias Hotston-Clarke threatened to spark copycat riots in Southampton when he launched an late night arson attack on the public building where he was picking up dole money.

Hampshire Constabulary at the time had been desperately seeking to reassure the public that the streets remained safe as rumours spread on Internet sites that rioting was about to break out in the county. It spread from London to north-west England and the Midlands in the days that followed.

Hotston-Clarke, 20, smashed a side window to the job centre in Bernard Street with a rock and splashed petrol from a can onto the carpet which he attempted to set alight with two cigarettes, a court heard.

But the wet petrol put out the cigarettes.

The break-in was discovered the following morning by a passer-by.

Police quickly arrested Hotston- Clarke after the cigarette butts revealed DNA that matched Clarke’s.

Hotston-Clarke, of Cecil Avenue, Southampton, was found guilty of attempted arson at Southampton Crown Court.

He claimed he had been at his pregnant girlfriend’s but had gone out late at night to get a drink.

In mitigation, his lawyer, David Reid, said it was “something of a half-hearted attempt” that had caused “low level damage”.

“A more concerted effort could’ve been made if he was intent on sending the building up in flames,” he said.

Mr Reid said Hotston-Clarke had been taking courses while on remand in prison and wanted to become a good father to his newly born son.

Passing sentence Judge Peter Henry told Hotston-Clarke: “Those were determined efforts to try to light a fire. Your intention was to cause major disruption to a public facility where unemployed people are given the opportunity to find employment or obtain job seeker’s allowance. That was a facility that you yourself were using. It’s pure luck that no severe damage was caused.”

Judge Henry added Hotson Clarke had admitted watching rioting in London on TV, where youths were setting fire to buildings and looting.

“The proper inference to draw was you were influenced by that and you went out that night motivated by what you had seen. You wanted to play your part causing similar disruption in this city and that makes this a serious matter,”

he said.

Detective Constable Chris Bradford said: “This was in the heat of the riots.

Hampshire Constabulary was putting extra resources on in the city and in the middle of it Clarke comes along and tries to set alight to one of the biggest public buildings in the city which could have become a focus for rioting in the city.”