A burglar who set fire to a New Malden couple's home on Christmas Eve in an attempt to destroy his trail of blood, faces years behind bars.

George Devlin, 22, caused more than £100,000 damage to the Victorian, three-storey property in Poplar Grove after starting fires in four rooms.

The Nelsons had gone away for Christmas but the Mills, a neighbouring family of four, were asleep during the blaze.

Elderly relativeswere staying with them and they all had to be evacuated as the fire took hold. Devlin, of Middleton Road, New Malden, admitted burgling the house, taking jewellery worth £45,000 and destroying items including a photograph of the owner meeting the Queen.

He denied starting the blaze but a jury found him guilty of the arson last Wednesday following a two-day trial at the Old Bailey.

Judge Gerald Gordon adjourned sentencing for reports but warned Devlin would "go to prison for some time".

The property in Poplar Grove was divided into two separate homes.

The Mills family including two children, aged 10 and 12, and an 82-year-old relative were asleep.

The family were safely evacuated to a neighbour's home by firefighters.

Investigators later discovered the blaze had been started with paper and rugs doused with a flammable liquid.

Prosecutor Gino Connor said Devlin had cut his arm breaking in through a smashed window.

"He started to bleed but nevertheless carried on looking for items to take. He must have realised if one leaves traces of blood, one can be found by their DNA."

Devlin was arrested in Kingston a month later and admitted to police he had burgled the house.

But he denied starting the fire and claimed he left his unnamed accomplice inside.

Devlin was convicted by the jury.

He is due to be sentenced on June 27.

May 29, 2003 11:00