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"Grotesquely selfish" arsonist gets 2 years

An arsonist who torched his flat in a fit of rage showed a "grotesque disregard" for the lives of young children and an elderly deaf pensioner, a court heard. Samuel Dudley, 22, was jailed for four years at Canterbury Crown Court after the judge heard he deliberately disabled a fire alarm before using a lighter to set fire to his sofa, duvet and clothes.

On January 11, terrified parents were forced to scoop up their children in the dead of night and race from the Canterbury Road building as smoke billowed around them. Initially fire crews feared Dudley was trapped inside and risked their lives trying to save him – until they realised he had set the blaze himself and then left.

Dudley claimed he was depressed at being evicted from the flat and admitted recklessly endangering life through arson. Donna East, prosecuting, said Dudley called his girlfriend Abbey Middlebrook after starting the blaze. She said:

"He went to see her and said 'I have burned my flat. I don't know why, I need help. No one can help me'."

In the meantime his sister and mother, who had gone to see him, saw the smoke and dialled 999. A deaf elderly lady slept through most of the commotion and was only awoken by the constant ringing of her doorbell.

Dudley told police he was angry at being evicted for rent arrears, and after drinking three pints of lager starting throwing things about the flat. He said that after using his lighter to start three separate fires, he "expected it to burn down", and left "without telling the other occupants". Peter Forbes, defending, said Dudley had lost his job and was worried about money. He said:

"His personal circumstances were getting on top of him and this led him into a despairing mood. There were young children in the flats and he is a father of two young children aged three and two who live with their mother, so he understood what risk that was."

Judge James said:

"This was a grotesquely selfish act which put entirely innocent people at risk. If this was a cry for help as your defence suggests, it was an extremely reckless act with callous disregard for anyone but yourself."

Dudley will serve half his sentence, less six months he has served already, but he will be released "under licence" for a further four years – so if he reoffends in that time he will be forced to complete his full sentence.

HB Times 23rd Jun 2011

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