Man hurt in suspected January car arson was subject of 2015 human-trafficking probe, investigators say

A man who almost died in a suspected arson attack on a vehicle in downtown London had been the subject of a human-trafficking probe involving teenage girls, The Free Press has learned.

His alleged attacker, William McDonald, 28, is charged with arson causing bodily harm and aggravated assault after a car parked near Wellington and Dundas streets burst into flames last month, injuring McDonald and the other man. McDonald, of Thamesford, also is charged in an attack on a sex-trade worker at a London hotel one day earlier - writes

Investigators are exploring whether there are potential links between McDonald’s alleged crimes.

William McDonald

Witnesses recounted seeing two men with their clothing on fire jump out of a burning car at 4:15p.m. on Jan. 17. Officers arrested McDonald at the scene and located the other man in a nearby store. Both were taken to hospital with critical injuries.

Court records identify the other injured man as Sean Leadston, 43, a Londoner with a criminal past.

McDonald and Leadston know each other, police said.

“It wasn’t random,” London police Sgt. Blair Harvey said.

“Those two men had come together there for a reason, at that intersection, in that car, but the exact circumstances as to why they came together remains under investigation.”

Leadston was charged with more than a dozen offences in January 2015 after police alleged his company van was being used to transport teenage girls — plied with alcohol and drugs — to area motels to make money as sex workers.

Leadston, then a married father of three, was charged with procuring a person younger than 18, possessing a weapon and possessing drugs for the purpose of trafficking.

Weeks later, he was charged with a dozen additional offences, including trafficking persons younger than 18, living off the avails of prostitution and exercising control and administering drugs for the purpose of illicit sex.

Leadston pleaded guilty in July to possessing a stun gun without a licence and trafficking in crystal meth. He was sentenced to 90 days to be served on weekends, before the Crown withdrew the rest of his charges, noting that some complainants from the case couldn’t be located.

The court heard how police surveillance observed Leadston visiting various London hotels for brief visits. He was later arrested outside an east-end hotel where police found three small dime bags of drugs in his pocket along with some cash. A stun gun was found inside Leadston’s van.

Leadston remained in the hospital in critical condition Thursday, a police spokesperson said.

“He is co-operating with police,” Harvey said, adding the serious injuries to both men have posed a challenge to investigators.

“There’s still a few pieces of this puzzle . . . that we’re trying to fit together.”

Neighbours say there was a break-in at Leadston’s west-end home in the fall, but police would not confirm that.

Nobody answered the door when The Free Press knocked.

McDonald faces charges of sexual assault, attempting to choke to overcome resistance and obtaining sexual services in relation to an attack on sex-trade worker on Jan. 16, though the incident wasn’t reported to police until six days later. A court-ordered publication ban was imposed on the complainant’s identify.

London women’s agencies praised police for alerting them about the attack, saying the notice helps them with safety planning for sex-trade workers.

Following McDonald’s release from custody, police on Monday notified the public about the possible safety risk and included a photo of him.

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