Preston arsonist who torched items in his combi grill at block of flats was depressed, court told

A partially sighted man torched his kitchen after suffering mental health issues, a court has heard.

Saturday, 11th January 2020, 5:00 pm

Kevin Griffiths, 55, of Stanleyfield Close, Preston, denied arson with intent to endanger life, but pleaded guilty to arson being reckless as to whether life was endangered.

Preston Crown Court was told several rersidents lived in flats adjoining his on Grosvenor Street, Preston, at the time of the blaze on December 12, 2018.

Prosecuting, David Clarke said at 1am police received a 999 call from the defendant.

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Crown Court

He added: " He was very upset and said he couldn't cope anymore.

"He also said he had been experiencing major marital problems and this was being compounded by his mental health problems and ongoing difficulties with his sight.

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"However, the immediate seriousness was not apparent until he said, 15 minutes into the call, that he was telephoning from his kitchen and there was smoke and he couldn't get out because the door was locked."

A PC arrived at the address and could see him inside, with smoke around him, and the defendant was "looking out in an apparent state of panic".

It was a ground floor flat with one flat above and four adjoining flats, and the court was told the fire "clearly had the potential to spread and cause danger to other occupants."

The officer managed to open a window and assist him out of the building, though he did briefly try to get back into the flat.

The court heard as the situation developed, several residents came out, and one person said to the officer the defendant was "not safe living there with his mental health issues."

Mr Griffiths, who was born partially sighted, claimed he had set fire to food in the microwave and the smoke was due to wrapping he hadn't seen because of his sight problems.

Mr Clarke added: " An officer forced entry with a fire extinguisher and had to force the kitchen door.

"The microwave was still switched on and he turned it off.

" A number of papers and magazines were smouldering inside the microwave and he deployed the fire extinguisher."

It was discovered the device was a combi grill and microwave, with the grill turned on, burning the papers.

The court is told Griffiths told officers he had not done it to self harm, but in the police car he became volatile, punching himself and saying he was partially suicidal.

He also attempted to hurt his head with a key in the ambulance, and it was deemed he should be sectioned.

Defending, Mark Stephenson told the court of Mr Griffiths' difficulties.

He said he had been evicted from the flat and was now living with a carer whom supported him from the public gallery, along with the defendant's wife.

He revealed he was addressing his drinking habits and was working three days for charity.

Judge Simon Medland QC, sentencing, said: "Although you have a few criminal convictions in the past there is no pattern evident from them, they are completely unrelated to this sort of offending for which I have to sentence you today."

He recounted the details of the case and added: " You were by then very drunk.

"You set fire to papers in your little cooker, probably by leaving the grill element on and stuffing papers in. Inevitably they ignited.

"You made a 999 call and alerted the authorities to the problem and the state you were then in.

"No accelerants were used and the actual damage was limited to the oven, which was yours - although there was smoke damage to the housing association property.

"It's inevitable wherever fire takes hold in domestic premises, especially where there might be people living with social or medical difficulties, then there is a risk of serious harm.

"As it was however - partly because of your call - no one was hurt."

Mr Griffiths began to cry in the dock as the judge added: "It is obvious from the facts of the case that at the time you were deeply depressed, very drunk, and in a very bad place.

"You have, and continue to have, mental health difficulties.

"The reports speak of your lifetime of social isolation.

"You have found it very difficult to make your way in the world.

"You have sheltered behind alcohol."

He sentenced him to two years in prison, but suspended the term for two years.

He was also given a 45 day rehabilitation activity requirement.

The judge remarked the sentence may "seem lenient" to people who don't know the background, but that it was designed to address the defendant's problems.