A MAN who set fire to Ilkley Moor during a spring heatwave has been locked up for more than two years.

Mohammed Zulkifl did not start the major blaze that was already tearing through the iconic beauty spot when he arrived with two other men on April 20 this year.

But the 20-year-old, of Rufford Street, Barkerend, made matters worse by setting a fire of his own - even as two other wildfires raged nearby.

With emergency services already at full stretch, "it is self-evidently the case that, left to its own devices, this could have been catastrophic," the Recorder of Bradford, Judge Jonathan Durham Hall, remarked this morning.

Jonathan Sharp, prosecuting, told Bradford Crown Court that a large wildfire took hold on the moor at about 4pm. Crews from 14 fire engines, police officers and the police helicopter were all deployed to fight it and crowds of people gathered on the moors to watch.


A second seat of fire was discovered at around 7pm, at which point officials were deployed to keep members of the public away from the fires and allow the emergency services to work.

Among them were two council wardens who approached Zulkifl and his companions.

"As they approached, they saw the defendant crouch down and set fire to the grass with his cigarette lighter. A fire started. The defendant stamped it out.

"But he then set fire to the grass a second time, and he was seen walking away as the fire began to take hold."

When the wardens approached Zulkifl he ran away, but he ran into the path of police officers and was arrested.

Ilkley Moor is etched in the national psyche, we all know. It is one of the few features which often distinguishes this area in the minds of onlookers. It is a beautiful, extensive area of moorland. It is vulnerable" - Judge Durham Hall

Mr Sharp said: "The defendant admitted to the officers that he had set a fire. He chose to say that he had done so because he was cold. He sought to claim he had put it out."

He told the court: "I stress it would not be right to lay the blame for all the damage to the moor on the defendant. That said, the court may wish to consider the extent of the damage when assessing the enormity of the task facing the emergency services and the danger that the defendant's activities posed."

The wildfires that day damaged between 18 and 20 hectares of moorland and restoration work may take a long time, the court heard.

Zulkifl's barrister Kate Batty said in mitigation that her client was in the bottom 4% of the population for intellectual capacity and was "limited in his ability to identify problems and find solutions", which led him to underestimate the risks of setting the fire.

But Judge Durham Hall told Zulkifl: "You knew what you were doing. You were aware of the risk. You have a degree of insight that has to be moderated, but it is there."

The judge said: "This case is a matter that has come to considerable public attention because it was an aspect of the most distressing and upsetting fires that beset this extremely precious part of Yorkshire during a very warm season indeed.

"Ilkley Moor is etched in the national psyche, we all know. It is one of the few features which often distinguishes this area in the minds of onlookers. It is a beautiful, extensive area of moorland. It is vulnerable."

Judge Durham Hall said it was likely that the initial wildfire was also started deliberately, though not by Zulkifl.

"Firemen die doing this work," Judge Durham Hall told Zulkifl. "This country is not used to conflagrations in our neighbouring countries which claim the lives of firemen, but every fireman is aware of the risk.

"You went up to the moors with family members and you watched from a position that gave you a very clear view of what was going on."

"You lit a fire. You put it out. But then you set another fire. You left that one."

He continued: "So a further fire crew had to go. The fire service, under incredible pressure and risk, contained a situation that could have got our of control, then had to go and deal with another fire. One set by you."

Sentencing Zulkifl to 27 months in a young offender's institution, Judge Durham Hall said he was taking into account the defendant's age, previous good character, early guilty plea and mental capacity.

After the hearing, West Yorkshire's deputy chief fire officer Dave Walton said: "We very much welcome the sentence given to Zulkifl and hope it acts as a deterrent to others. Moor fires are hugely dangerous to people, animals and property and they require a huge resource to tackle."

Chief Inspector Mark Long, of Bradford District Police, said: "Zulkifl's actions when the fire service were already tackling a separate fire on the moorland were nothing short of reckless. We hope this outcome sends out a message that anyone who endangers the lives of others by starting a fire deliberately is likely to go to prison."

In a statement after the hearing, Amanda Anderson, director of the Moorland Association, said: "Zulkifl deserves his custodial sentence."

She added: "The number and extent of wildfires has increased sharply in recent years and does not need any help from arsonists.

"History shows Ilkley Moor is susceptible to wildfires."