Trapped man thought he was going to die after arsonist started house blaze

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A dangerous arsonist has been jailed after he started an early hours blaze which trapped a man in his attic room at a terraced house in Halifax.

Andrew Skiba thought he was going to die as he waited for 20 minutes to be rescued by fire crews from his room in the four-storey property on Beverley Terrace, Boothtown.

A court heard that Mr Skiba and another resident Christopher Broadley had to be treated in hospital for smoke inhalation following the blaze in January.

The fire had been started by convicted arsonist Matthew Murrell after he forced his way into another unoccupied flat in the house following a late-night disturbance.

Murrell, 28, used a cigarette lighter to set fire to a mattress and bedding in the first floor flat and Bradford Crown Court heard that the arson was almost identical to his previous offence which led to him being jailed for a year in 2013.

Prosecutor Emma Downing told the court that Murrell, of Woodbrook Close, Mixenden, Halifax, had been drinking with a group of people before going back to the house, which had been converted into seven flats.

During a disturbance inside the property Murrell bit a pregnant woman’s finger and started using a piece of wood from a banister to smash a number of windows.

“The defendant was shouting and screaming I’ll burn you alive,” said Miss Downing.

Murrell made further threats before running out of the building and within seconds smoke started filling the property and the fire alarm activated.

Resident Nathan Robinson knocked on the flat doors warning others to evacuate the house and when two police officers arrived on the scene smoke was billowing from the top of the building.

Miss Downing said the officers saw Mr Broadley leaving a first floor flat with a blanket over his head and one of them heard a male voice shouting for help.

The officers were unable to get to Mr Skiba because of the amount of smoke and he made a 999 call himself before following advice to put bedding at the bottom of his door and stand by an open window.

“Due to the levels of smoke Andrew Skiba was trapped in his flat for twenty minutes before he was rescued by members of the fire service,” said Miss Dowining.

“He does not report any long-term health problems, but he does state that he genuinely feared for his life and believed he was going to die.”

Murrell, who had some cannabis on him, was found hiding nearby and during his police interviews he said: “It would be good to watch someone burn.”

He claimed he started the fire because he was “getting bullied”, but went on to say he fantasised about killing people.

Murrell admitted charges of arson being reckless as to whether life would be endangered and possessing cannabis.

After reading various reports on Murrell Judge David Hatton QC concluded that he posed a significant risk of serious harm and jailed him for four years.

As part of an extended sentence the judge also imposed an additional four year licence period following Murrell’s release.

“The risk to the lives of others was a very real one such was the extent of the contamination of the property by smoke and indeed two occupants of the premises had to receive hospital treatment,” the judge told Murrell.

The judge explained that Murrell would have to serve at least two-thirds of his four-year sentence, but the Parole Board would then have to decide if it was safe to release him at that stage.