Whitnash man jailed after setting fire to chair in foyer of block of flats

Court news.
Court news.

A Whitnash man set fire to a chair in the foyer of the block of flats where he lived, and then got into the lift to go up to his flat, leaving it in flames.

Fortunately, the chair was made of flame-retardant material, and the fire started by Michael McGuire went out before it could spread, Warwick Crown Court has heard.

McGuire (61) of Landor House, Crutchley Way, Whitnash, was jailed for two-and-a-half years after pleading guilty to arson being reckless whether lives were endangered.

Prosecutor Christopher Hewertson said that at some time after 8pm on November 14, McGuire went into the foyer at Landor House and set fire to a chair that was there for the residents.

“He uses matches to set light to the underside of it and watches the flames take hold under the chair before leaving the scene and entering the lift to go back to his flat.

“But soon after he leaves, the flame-retardant nature of the chair meant the flames died down in short order and were naturally extinguished, having caused some damage to the floor and some to the underside of the chair.”

Mr Hewertson, who said it was accepted the damage was limited, pointed out that the block houses 31 flats specifically for people over the age of 55.

The result of the fire was discovered by another resident as she went out to take her dog for a walk at shortly after 10pm and noticed ‘a black sticky mess’ under the chair.

So she called her husband who came down and found two burnt matches next to it.

The police were contacted, and a CCTV recording from the foyer showed McGuire had been responsible.

When he was arrested he claimed it had been an accident, and that he thought he had seen a rat under the chair, so had struck a match to try to find it.

Mr Hewertson added that McGuire had a number of old convictions for violence and dishonesty, but no recent ones.

Sean Logan, defending, said: “The consequences of this very small fire could nonetheless have been catastrophic, which is why the public policy is to hand down sentences of immediate imprisonment.

“But the damage caused was minimal, and no accelerant was used. He describes himself as being extremely depressed living at that place, and lonely. He was crying out for help.

“He realises how wrong his actions have been. He had no real desire to hurt anybody. He concedes his initial story to the police was nonsense.”

Jailing McGuire, Judge Anthony Potter told him: “There were at least a number of other residents in Landor House that evening when, at some stage, you walked into the foyer and struck a match and set light to that chair.

“You paused for a moment to watch the flames take hold and, rather than doing anything to put them out, you entered the lift and made your way to where you live.

“You left the foyer with no-one else present to see how the fire was going to take hold and whether it might ultimately affect some of the other people in the block.

“Happily for you, as much as for anyone else, that fire went out relatively quickly.

“In interview you came up with an improbable account, but the CCTV showed you deliberately set fire to the chair.

“It matters not the particular damage caused. The gravamen of the offending is the risk setting fire to something causes to others. You had no idea when you set fire to it what would happen.

“But it’s clear you are ashamed by your actions and that at the time you were suffering from depression.”