Man set fire to flat door after social services call
A 32-year-old Coleford man who set fire to a woman’s front door in a block of flats in Cheltenham because he believed she had ‘dobbed him in’ to social services, has been sentenced to a suspended 16-month prison term.
Prosecutor Nicola Wood told Gloucester Crown Court last Wednesday (June 8) that on July 27 last year John Smith was living in the Shurdington area and had an unexpected visit from social services which made him angry.
“Immediately after this visit Smith drank five cans of beer before knocking on the door of a neighbour with a can of cider in his hand, two cans of beer in a trouser pocket and anther can in the other trouser pocket,” said Ms Wood.
“He asked this friend to take him to a petrol station so he could fill up his jerry can with petrol. He told his friend he wanted to scare the woman who lived opposite as he believed she had dobbed him in with social services.
“However, the friend didn’t think this was a serious threat and complied with the request to take him to the local garage.
“At 9.30pm a woman living in a block of flats opposite heard somebody shouting ‘fire, fire’ and then she heard banging on her door. She opened the door and saw that a rag had been set on fire and it had scorched her front door frame.
“The man who knocked the door told the woman he had put out the fire with a bottle of water.
“The police were called and arrested Smith in his flat. The officers found the green jerry can in the flat, still three quarters full of petrol.”
Smith admitted in his police interview that he had set a rag on fire and left it outside the woman’s door. He explained that he only used a small rag because there were a lot of children in the building at the time as he only wanted to scare the occupant, who he believed was responsible for being the one who had contacted social services.
The victim said that her children no longer live at the flat since the incident. Smith’s actions had made her very distressed and upset and she has been having problems in sleeping, she stated.
The property owner, Bromford Housing stated that the cost of repairs to the fire damage was £2,400.
Judge Ian Lawrie QC observed: “It is unforgiveable what Smith thought he was doing.”
David Scutt, defending said that Smith reacted badly to being investigated by social services. He was drunk at the time when he committed the arson offence.
“Smith is a working man on minimum wage as a retail assistant but has a zero hours contract. He has shown remorse for his actions,” he said.
Smith, now of St Hilaire Avenue, Coleford, pleaded guilty to arson, being reckless as to whether life endangered on July 27, 2021.
Judge Lawrie told Smith: “What you did was simply stupid. I know that you were angry and that you were drunk.
“You acted badly under the circumstances. Your actions were inappropriate and idiotic. Happily, for all concerned, nobody got hurt. However arson does cross the custody threshold.
“I accept that you are a man of good character and that your behaviour on that night was out of character. I therefore believe there is a constructive alternative to a custodial sentence.
“This is because this isn’t the normal type of arson that the courts often see. I think that you are capable of rehabilitation so I am suspending the 16 month prison sentence for two years.”
The judge also ordered Smith to undergo a six-month alcohol treatment requirement and complete 150 hours of unpaid work along with 25 rehabilitation activity days.
Smith was also made subject to a two year restraining order not to contact his victim by any means.
The judge concluded: “You’ve brushed very close to a period in custody. If you get angry in future, don’t act the way you did on that night.”
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