‘Wonderful’ neighbour set fire to flat by burning bills

A "wonderful" neighbour set fire to her flat by burning bills on her couch.

Derrin Smith, 57, woke her neighbour by shouting her dog's name from a window in the early hours of May 9 this year.

The day before a family member had to rush to her home in Moseley Avenue, Wallasey, after she set a pair of curtains alight.

After jumping from her own window to escape flames she pleaded guilty to arson being reckless as to whether life was endangered.

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Martyn Walsh, prosecuting, explained that the day before the incident Smith told family member Lawrence Hegarty that she had set fire to her house.

Mr Hegarty rushed to her home and was able to control the lit set of curtains, after which Smith was taken to a family member as they were concerned for her welfare.

But she later returned home and at 6.15am on May 9, neighbour Deborah Ball heard the arsonist calling for her dog, Cedric, from her window.

Smith told her neighbour the house was on fire, prompting Ms Ball to call emergency services.

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The 57-year-old then had to jump from her bedroom window into her neighbours' arms to escape the flames.

The fire service, an ambulance and police officers attended.

When confronted, Smith admitted that she had caused the fire, with burned bills found on the floor.

Mr Walsh told Liverpool Crown Court today (August 3) that Smith was previously convicted of actual bodily harm in 1984, grievous bodily harm in 1986 and criminal damage in September 1990.

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Paul Davison, defending, told the court he had said to himself: "What on earth possesses someone to do something like this?"

He went on to explain that Smith suffers from depression and that during the coronavirus crisis hadn't really been out – although she had been to a BBQ on the day of the offence.

Mr Davison said: "The pressure was getting to her. Things were continuing to break and things were getting on top of her."

He stated that Smith was "apologetic" and "ashamed" of what she had done.

The court also heard that Smith has problems with alcohol.

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In a statement, Ms Ball described her neighbour as "wonderful" and a "nice person".

She said: "This is very out of character, things must have been very wrong in her life, she is someone who needs help."

Mr Davison assured the court that if Smith was spared jail, no offence of this nature would take place again.

Judge David Aubrey, QC, sentencing, explained that in spite of efforts by Mr Davison, he felt only an immediate sentence of custody would suffice as punishment for the offending.

He said: "I have come to the conclusion taking all factors into account that in my judgement appropriate punishment can only be achieved by one of immediate custody."

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Judge Aubrey stated that he also took into account the current prison conditions as a result of coronavirus.

He handed Smith the shortest custodial sentence possible for the type of offence, and as she has already served 83 days she will be out of custody "in the very foreseeable future".

Smith was handed a sentence of eight months, which would have been 12 months after a trial – however, Judge Aubrey considered Smith's early guilty plea.

Judge Aubrey also explained that he found it "difficult to assess the extent of the damage" as no photographs of the fire damage were provided to the court, which he found "most unacceptable".