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‘Hero’ who ran into burning flat to save neighbour is jailed for starting fire

A ‘hero’ who risked his life to try to save his upstairs neighbour as fire engulfed her flat has been jailed after admitting he was the villain who started it.

Robert Barnett was initially hailed as courageous after going into the blazing property and suffering burns in the process, reports Chronicle Live.

But, in fact, he was the arsonist responsible for the fire as he tried to drive Serena Burrell out over his concerns about noise.

A court heard he believed the flat in Sunderland, was empty but in fact Ms Burrell was asleep.

The fire blocked her only exit and she was forced to leap out of a first floor window, suffering fractures to her ankle, spine and elbow when she landed.

It emerged that Barnett had argued with his neighbour and set the house on fire thinking she wasn’t home

Now Barnett, who admitted arson being reckless as to whether life was endangered, has been jailed for three years and seven month at Newcastle Crown Court.

Ms Burrell, 51, had fallen asleep on August 5 2019 and woke the next morning with smoke and fire outside her door.

Anne Richardson, prosecuting, said: “A number of calls were made to the fire service and one was by Robert Barnett.

“A witness, who is a neighbour of both Ms Burrell and the defendant, saw the defendant go into the property on a number of occasions and attempt to get to Serena Burrell, as a result of which he suffered burns.

“Initially he was dealt with as a witness and a hero.”

“When the police arrived at the scene, he was spoken to by them and stated that he heard the alarms, saw flames at the front door and tried to run up the stairs.

“He said that the stairs were flaming and that he was unable to get to the top. He had initially gone into the flat clad only in boxer shorts, but he stated that, realising he needed more protection from the fire, he went back to his flat to get a blanket and some gloves.”

An investigation revealed the fire had been started in two locations – the staircase that leads to her flat door and a wheelie bin that was left either in the door to the flat from the pavement or just outside.

CCTV from a nearby shop showed a hooded man before the fire was started and the clothing matches that at Barnett's home
CCTV from a nearby shop showed a hooded man before the fire was started and the clothing matches that at Barnett’s home

CCTV from a nearby shop showed a hooded man, swaying through intoxication, coming from the area of Barnett’s locked back yard to Ms Burrell’s front door. Smoke was seen coming from her door less than a minute later.

Police seized clothing from the Barnett’s flat which matched the clothing of the man seen on the footage.

He was arrested whilst still at the RVI receiving treatment for burns which he had sustained attempting to go back into the flat when it was on fire.

Miss Richardson said: “Ms Burrell was a vulnerable lady with her own difficulties.

“It appears the defendant was in drink.

“If it was not a revenge attack it was predicated on issues he perceived he had with her and her friends in the flat above.”

She added: “The Crown accept that, no doubt horrified at what he had done, he went into the flat at considerable risk to himself to try to make amends.”

The court heard it cost £17,700 to repair the damage to the flat.

Ms Burrell later went on to suffer cardiac arrests, which were unconnected to the fire, and now lives in a care home.

Barnett, 30, has only one previous conviction.

The court heard he was concerned his ex might stop him having his son at his home as the noise from upstairs had affected his sleep.

Jane Foley, defending, said: “He had contact with his son and became frustrated with what he saw as problems with neighbours making too much noise.

“Having dropped off his son and taken on too much alcohol, he foolishly decided to set fire to her house in the hope she might move away from the area.

“He thought nobody was present, the house was quiet. He expresses genuine remorse for his behaviour.

“He’s struggled with addiction. Unless he gets the help he needs there’s a risk he may behave very badly in future.”



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