Wednesday, 02 December 2015

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Pregnant woman and three children had to flee house blaze, Carlisle court told

A pregnant woman and her three children had to escape from a smoke-filled house after a neighbour “with a grudge” set fire to it during an “extraordinary arson campaign” in the town where he lives, a court heard.

John Brown, 47, was drinking heavily after the collapse of his marriage when he started 16 fires in Keswick – eight in and around Windebrowe Avenue, where he and his wife Linda lived, a jury at Carlisle Crown Court was told.

Eight of the fires were started in rubbish bins outside commercial premises in the town centre but Brown also set light to a caravan, a car and several houses as the seriousness of his crimes increased, prosecuting counsel Tim Evans said.

Brown has pleaded not guilty to five charges of arson with intent to endanger life, six of arson being reckless as to whether life was endangered and 10 of arson.

Some of the 16 fires are the subject of two different alternative charges - one more serious than the other - with the jury being asked whether he intended life to be endangered, whether he was just reckless as to whether it would be or whether he was in fact not responsible for them at all.

The charges relate to fires from March 2011 to January 2013.

Opening the case, Mr Evans said that Brown seemed to gain “a perverse thrill” from putting people’s lives at risk, even if he did not actually intend to kill anyone.

In one blaze – on the night of August 14, 2012 – he started a fire in some cardboard, which spread to a garden shed outside the house immediately opposite his own, he said.

The house-holder Lynda Stobbart was there with her pregnant daughter Jayne Hunter, Jayne’s partner Kieron Rumney and three of her children, Mr Evans said.

Ms Hunter went into her children’s bedroom, which was filled with thick smoke, after being woken by fire alarms.

“She could not see the children clearly because of how thick the smoke was in the bedroom,” Mr Evans said.

“She took her children downstairs, and as she was leaving the house the flames were licking up the side of the house, outside the landing window.”

Mrs Stobbart described “thick smoke which choked you as you breathed” in the children’s bedroom, Mr Evans said, and said that as she stood outside later – watching with a group of neighbours who included John Brown – she could see the flames “licking up the outside of the house”.

Mr Evans said that after another fire, on November 21, 2012, Brown had been hailed a hero for rescuing an elderly neighbour

Only later did police realise he had started the fire himself, he said.

Mr Evans said the police became suspicious of Brown because so many of the fires” occurred near his home.

Others were started at the Old Keswickian fish and chip shop, The Inn at Keswick, the Cotswold camping store, the Golden Lion, the Oddfellows Arms and three at the Spar shop in Shorley Lane.

Mr Evans said those targets provided another clue as to who was responsible.


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