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Sandown Court fire starter spared jail after early morning evacuation

Posted on - 3rd November, 2019 - 7:00am | Author - | Posted in - Avenham, Crime, Preston City Centre, Preston News
Sandown Court, in Preston. Credit: Google

A man who started a fire at his high rise flat in Avenham, causing more than 100 people to be evacuated has been spared jail.

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Emergency services were called to Sandown Court at 3.30am on 16 November 2018 after reports a flat on the ninth floor was on fire.

As fire crews pulled up at the 17 storey tower block they saw thick smoke billowing out of the building, and feared the occupant of the flat would not survive the blaze.

Six fire engines attended the scene in Avenham Lane.

As firefighters entered the flat wearing breathing apparatus, they found clothing alight in the hallway and the occupant Liam Whittle, 26, who seemed to be under the influence of drink or drugs.

Hundreds of residents were evacuated and Whittle, who lived alone at the property, was taken to hospital, suffering only the effects of smoke inhalation.

He later pleaded guilty to arson being reckless as to whether life was endangered and appeared at Preston Crown Court to be sentenced.

Read more: Man arrested after fire at Sandown Court

The court heard Whittle, who has autism, had been struggling with drug addiction after his father died and a relationship broke down.

In the days before the blaze he had tried to access mental health services but had been unable to get an appointment for four weeks.

He had not slept for three days and was suffering hallucinations and paranoia.

On the night of the fire he believed people were outside his flat and started throwing items around to try to scare them off, the court heard.

During his panic, clothing piled up in the hallway caught fire, the court heard.

Since the fire, Whittle has moved to supported accommodation and has undertaken residential rehabilitation to tackle his drug problems and is engaging with support services.

Judge Simon Newell, sentencing, said he was impressed with the progress Whittle had made to turn his life around in the 11 months since the fire, which caused more than £2,000 of damage to the flat.

He said he would defer sentencing Whittle until March, and monitor the progress he makes with his rehabilitation.

But he said if the defendant continues to work with the relevant agencies he will not face immediate custody.

Read more: Crime news from Blog Preston

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