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Tuesday, 29 July 2014

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I was fire hero, Cumbrian arson accused tells trial

A man told a court how he beat down a door to rescue an old lady from a house which was burning because of a fire which he was later accused of starting himself.

Related: Cumbrian family in tears in street as they watched home burn

John Brown, 48, is accused of lighting a total of 16 fires in Keswick – five of which spread to houses, putting the lives of the occupants at risk.

In one a pregnant woman and three children were among several members of a family who had to flee from their smoke-filled house in Windebrowe Avenue with the flames licking up the walls outside after he set fire to a nearby garden shed, it is alleged.

And in another a woman in her eighties had to be rescued after her home – also in Windebrowe Avenue – went up in flames.

Other fires were lit in a car and a caravan and outside several business premises, two of which Brown was allegedly nursing a grudge against after being reported for stealing from them.

The prosecution at Carlisle Crown Court says that Brown started all the fires after he began drinking heavily as his 26-year marriage fell apart.

But in evidence Brown said he had nothing to do with any of them.

And he described how he and two other men had been hailed as heroes after rescuing Mrs Greta Way from her burning home.

He said he was on his way home after buying cider at a nearby garage when another man told him that Mrs Way’s house was on fire.

He said he broke down the door and went into the house with Michael Charlton and Lee Newton, and found Mrs Way – who was in her 80s – sitting in her living room reading a book.

“I don’t think she knew what was going on,” he told the jury.

He said the three men helped the old lady out – “although she didn’t really want to go” – and he gave her his coat to keep her warm as she stood on the pavement until an ambulance arrived.

The next day Mrs Way’s son Kirk gave him £40 in thanks for helping his mother, he said.

Asked by defence counsel Greg Hoare if he had in fact started the fire himself, Brown replied: “No.”

He gave the same answer when, one by one, Mr Hoare went through the 15 other fires Brown is accused of starting.

“It may be suggested to you that on occasions you have been so drunk you would not have known whether you lit these fires or not,” Mr Hoare told him.

Brown admitted that there had been some such “rare” occasions, but he insisted: “I would never do anything like that.”

Brown, who lived in Windebrowe Avenue, the street in which several of the fires occurred, has pleaded not guilty to a total of 21 charges of arson.

The trial continues.

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