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Saturday, 02 August 2014

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Woman set fire to home in Cumbria in suicide bid

A woman torched her home in a suicide bid after downing vodka and anti-depressants following a family row.

Fifty-six-year-old Nora Rodney set the curtains on fire, sparking worried neighbours to alert one another as smoke poured through their plugs.

She told firefighters she wanted to die and struggled to get back inside the house, where flames were coming from the window and gas cannisters and a gas fire were in the living room.

Carlisle Crown Court heard how Rodney had fallen out with her family the previous Christmas and was unable to contact her elderly parents, who weren’t in good health.

She was living out of a suitcase after packing her possessions into boxes because she had been promised alternative accommodation the previous year.

The court heard how the alarm was raised after a woman saw flames coming out of the house and was concerned about the neighbours next to it and ran over to warn them.

Another woman spotted smoke and telephoned her friend, Janice Blackburn, who lived next door to Rodney on Mossbay Road in Workington.

“Mrs Blackburn had noticed the smoke coming through the plug sockets,” prosecutor Becky McGregor said. “She ran outside and was really scared.”

The neighbour on the other side, Nicola Nixon, was out at the time, at 3pm on April 16, but had been at home the previous afternoon asleep.

“Her property was filled with smoke and she was left with hairline cracks from the heat,” Miss McGregor said.

Fire crew manager Michael Weir said there were flames coming out of the front window when they arrived. Rodney, who was outside, told them she had set fire to the curtains. She wanted to die and be left alone, Miss McGregor said.

Rodney, who sat with her head down in the dock, had used a lighter to torch the curtains, starting a blaze which could have spread to neighbouring houses through linked roof spaces, firefighters said.

“There was a gas fire with a gas bottle in it, which caused great concern to fire crews,” Miss McGregor added. “They were in the living room at the time of the fire.”

The blaze caused £30,000 to £40,000 damage to the house, which Rodney was renting.

She said the gas cannisters were empty but may have had a ‘little bit’ left in them.

The court heard how Rodney, who admitted arson with intent to endanger life, had gone through difficult times following a breakdown in family relationships. She had been promised new accommodation and had packed her possessions in boxes, waiting to move since the previous July.

She had been to see her GP for help and he doubled her anti-depressants dose, but she was not supposed to drink when taking them.

She was ‘extremely remorseful about the distress and sorrow’, she had caused, and had little coherent memory of it. The court heard how she viewed her time in prison on remand, waiting to be sentenced, as “a blessing” as it gave her time to sort her head out.

Judge Barbara Forrester told her it was very sad to see someone of her age in court for what was essentially, the first time.

“It does seem that you have been going through difficult times, some of which stretch back over a period of time.”

“The fall out with your family has affected you badly and caused deterioration in your mental health. It’s quite clear that is the basis for this offence, which was serious.”

She sentenced her to 27 months in prison, minus the 108 days she has already served on remand.

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