A WARWICK woman caused an explosion which blew out the front of a house occupied by asylum-seekers after breaking in and starting a fire in a downstairs bedroom.
Fortunately one of the upstairs residents had been woken by Marlene Doyle drunkenly shouting outside, and was able to raise the alarm before occupiers were trapped by the fire.
Following her arrest, she pleaded not guilty at Warwick Crown Court to a charge of arson at the house in Stoney Stanton Road, Coventry, being reckless whether lives were endangered.
But at a pre-trial hearing Doyle, 30, of Welford Grove, Hatton Park, Warwick, changed her plea guilty – and has now been jailed for four years.
Prosecutor Siobhan Collins said the house in Stoney Stanton Road had been converted into a multi-occupancy property, with four bedrooms on the first floor and one on the ground floor, all occupied by asylum-seekers.
At4am on March 9, one of the upstairs residents was woken by Doyle outside the front of the house drunkenly shouting for someone called Jay.
She then banged on the window of the downstairs bedroom until it broke, and climbed inside.
The occupier was out, but had all his possessions in the room, including his passport, identity card, papers and cash.
Once inside Doyle, who the court heard had no previous convictions, took the man’s identity card and started a fire by setting light to papers or bedding on a chest of drawers.
She then left through the front door, but the man who had been woken alerted other residents and raised the alarm, and as Doyle tried to run away she was caught and brought back.
Meanwhile, the fire had spread to the bed and clothing, and aerosol cans in the room exploded with such force that the bay window at the front of the house was blown out, as was an internal stud wall and a door.
The emergency services arrived and Doyle, who complained she had been assaulted by the occupant who had detained her, was arrested after being treated for smoke inhalation.
When she was questioned, she said she had been in the area looking for a friend called Jay, and had gone into the property before realising it was the wrong address and leaving.
She denied starting the fire, which Miss Collins said had caused £20,000 worth of damage, making it unsafe to live in, as a result of which all the tenants had had to be re-housed.
Judge Andrew Lockhart QC commented: “There were numerous people in the house. There was a very high risk of very serious injury or death. There were people upstairs, and if the fire had caught even slightly more, they would have been trapped.”
David Murray, defending, said that, having pleaded not guilty, Doyle had changed her plea on the basis that she could not remember doing it, but accepted she must be guilty.
He said traumas in her life, including the loss of her three children who had been taken from her, had led her to turn to drink, but since being remanded in custody she had been taking courses to tackle her alcohol problem.
Asking the judge to consider a suspended sentence, Mr Murry said her remorse was evident, and she had spent four months in custody on remand.
But Judge Lockhart told Doyle: “You were a woman of good character, and have suffered a great deal in your relationships and because of your addiction to alcohol and other matters.
“But on the 9th of March you went to Stoney Stanton Road, into the room of a man who lived there and stole an identity card.
“What you then did to cover your tracks was to set a fire on a chest of drawers.
“This was not just someone’s house, it was a multi-occupancy address being used by those who are unlucky enough not to have their own homes, the most vulnerable in society.
“It is very lucky everyone got out, but as the fire took hold an explosion took place and the front of the house was blown out and a wall was blown out.
“It is merciful that people did wake, and merciful that they were not trapped and merciful they didn’t die in the fire or from the smoke it produced, but a number of people were made homeless by your actions.”