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Corbyn slammed after appointing fire-raising peer to his frontbench

By Sam Lister

Published 19/09/2015

Rehabilitated: Lord Watson
Rehabilitated: Lord Watson

Jeremy Corbyn has been criticised for appointing to his frontbench a peer who admitted putting lives in danger after deliberately starting a fire at a hotel.

Labour's new leader has given a job in his education team to Mike Watson, who pleaded guilty to a charge of wilful fire-raising when he appeared at Edinburgh Sheriff Court in September 2005.

The move was branded "bizarre" by the SNP, which claimed it was proof Mr Corbyn was "scrambling around" to find people to fill the frontbench roles.

Lord Watson admitted setting fire to a curtain when he attended the Scottish Politician of the Year awards at Edinburgh's 17th-century Prestonfield House Hotel.

The flames destroyed the curtain and burned the curtain pole as smoke spread up over the walls and ceiling before staff managed to extinguish the blaze without fire crews being called.

An SNP spokesman said: "This is a bizarre appointment; it reflects how Jeremy Corbyn seems to be scrambling around for people to work with, which in turn is further proof of the deep divisions within the Labour Party."

But Labour defended the move, insisting the peer had now been rehabilitated.

A Labour Party spokesman said: "Lord Watson was readmitted to the Labour Party in 2012 and following his rehabilitation it is right he should be allowed to play a full part in public life."

Lord Watson was jailed by the sheriff for 16 months for his "deliberate and dangerous'' actions.

Around 400 guests - including Scots peers and parliamentarians from Holyrood, Westminster and Europe, political journalists and lobbyists - had attended the event but most had already left the party when the fire broke out.

Police were called when hotel staff viewed security camera footage and spotted a kilted figure stooping at the base of the curtain, which was ablaze moments later.

The peer denied any wrongdoing but in court changed his plea to guilty.

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