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Wednesday, 03 September 2014

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Cumbrian man set fire to farmhouse during mental breakdown

An incident in which a man had a mental breakdown and torched a farmhouse previously belonging to his father has been described as a “human tragedy”.

Carlisle Crown Court heard that Andrew Coward, 47, set fire to the house on December 5, 2012, causing £340,000 worth of damage.

At about 6pm he knocked on a neighbour’s door and told them that he had used petrol to light the fire.

The neighbour noticed the fire in the distance and severe burns on Coward’s hands, and decided to call fire services.

Coward told the neighbour that he was saving people by destroying a disease he referred to as Norwegian scabies.

Kimberley Obrusik, prosecuting, said: “The defendant said ‘all these people who are dying in hospital – it’s my fault. I have got Norwegian scabies’.

“He then listed numerous deaths in Carlisle and Penrith and said he had been there and passed on the condition.

“The fire was well alight and confined to the first floor but had burned through the roof.”

There was no-one in the building at the time of the incident, and after telling police his story Coward was sectioned under the Mental Health Act.

A later psychiatric test found that he had been in the grips of a delusion disorder and depression.

Coward initially pleaded guilty to a single charge of arson but sentencing was adjourned to allow for psychiatric reports to be carried out.

Judge Paul Batty QC said: “Fire-raising is an extremely serious offence.

“It’s the belief of the psychiatrist that at the time you committed the offence you were in a state of florid relapse and a delusional state.

“This case, in my judgement, is a human tragedy, and I don’t wish to add further to your suffering.”

Judge Batty gave Coward, of Askham, near Penrith, a two-year prison sentence, suspended for two years. He also ordered him to undergo a two-year supervision order and a mental health treatment programme.

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