Drunken fire starter gets suspended prison sentence

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A 22-year-old man who started a fire at his Halifax home which could have killed an elderly neighbour has been given a suspended jail sentence.

A judge told Val Wilby that he was taking an exceptional course in not locking him up immediately for setting fire to his own clothes at a house in Illingworth in May.

Judge Mark Savill said Wilby had been in a state of “mental turmoil” when returned drunk to his home, took off his clothes and set light to them at the bottom of the staircase.

Prosecutor Stephen Wood told Bradford Crown Court that father-of-two Wilby had been at a party with his wife that night and had drunk about 12 bottles of Budweiser lager.

Wilby returned to their home on his own in the early hours and after starting the blaze he rang his sister to say his house was on fire.

Mr Wood said Wilby’s sister arrived at the house to find it filling with smoke, but when she shouted at her brother to leave he refused.

The defendant’s sister sensibly moved a BMW car away from the property and Mr Wood said the fire brigade arrived quickly to put out the blaze.

The court heard that Wilby, who was wearing a tiger onesie, was arrested and at an earlier court hearing he pleaded guilty to a charge of arson being reckless as to whether life would be endangered.

Mr Wood said the occupier of an adjourning property was a woman in her 80s with emphysema .

“She was in at the time and the defendant’s highly reckless act clearly put that lady’s life in danger,” said Mr Wood.

“If the fire had taken hold and smoke had gotten into her house she was at real risk.”

Wilby, who lives in Illingworth, told police he could remember going home, but the next thing he recalled was being woken by his sister and being told to get out.

He told police his intention was to kill himself, but he did not intend to harm anyone else.

Judge Savill described it as an extremely serious and worrying case, but after reading reports about Wilby, including one from a psychiatrist, he decided to suspend his 24-month prison sentence for two years.

Wilby will be supervised by the probation service during that period and he will also have to comply with a rehabilitation activity requirement.

Judge Savill told Wilby that the fire had been well on its way to taking hold that night and the house could have been burned down.

“You could have died. Your neighbour could have died and the fire brigade who attended to extinguish the fire were put in danger as well,” he told Wilby.

Wilby’s solicitor advocate Anne-Marie Hutton said her client had had suffered “traumatic events in his life” and the offence had been a wake-up call for him.

“Of course it is in everyone’s interest for this defendant to keep taking his medication and get better and that responsibility ultimately falls on his shoulders,” she said.

She said Wilby was now seeing his general practitioner on a regular basis and he was also seeking counselling.

“The reality is this is a broken man who desperately needs assistance,” she submitted.