Arsonist sentenced after Lancing care home fire

Emergency services at the scene in May
Emergency services at the scene in May

The former resident of a Lancing care home has been sentenced to two-and-half years in prison for starting a fire in his room.

Paul Wiggins, unemployed, of Brighton Road, Lancing, was charged with arson being reckless as to whether life is endangered following a fire at Mermaid Lodge in Brighton Road, Lancing, on Sunday, May 13.

Emergency services at the scene in May

Emergency services at the scene in May

The 57-year-old appeared at Brighton Crown Court for sentencing today (Friday, October 19), having previously pleaded guilty.

The court heard Wiggins had been a resident at the home, which cares for up to ten people under the age of 65 with mental health needs, for between 18 months and two years before the incident.

On Sunday, May 13, following an earlier disagreement between Wiggins and a member of staff, the fire alarm went off at the home at 8.30pm, the court heard.

The two members of staff evacuated the residents and the fire service attended.

Wiggins had left the building and was found sitting on a wall outside.

No was injured in the fire.

In an interview, Wiggins confirmed he had set a t-shirt alight with a lighter while it was hanging in the wardrobe in his room, said Naomi Edwards, prosecuting.

He said he was disatisfied with the room he was in and wanted to move from the accomodation, she said.

Wiggins watched the t-shirt go up in flames before leaving the property without alerting anyone, she said.

However he said the alarm was activated before he left and he knew the fire brigade had been called, Ms Edwards said.

When he was arrested, he said: “I didn’t mean to set the t-shirt on fire and I didn’t mean to hurt anyone.”

Damage to the room, which was mainly caused by smoke and water used to put the fire out, cost the care home manager £1,000, the court heard.

Recorder Matthew Butt said a psychiatric report had shown that Wiggins had a history of susbstance abuse, including the use of spice, a synthetic cannabinoid.

It also stated that Wiggins had a history of mental health problems since the age of 23 – he heard voices and had views about aliens controlling the world – and had chronic paranoid schizophrenia.

However, the doctor said there was ‘no direct link’ between his condition and the offence and said he ‘did not start the fire because of his mental illness’, said Mr Butt.

“The hostel was occupied and you knew that. You left the hostel after waiting for the fire to take,” Mr Butt said.

“You do have mental health problems though they are not directly linked to your offending.”

He said he was thankful no one was injured.

“Whatever you think about how small the fire was going to be, how carefully it could be controlled, you need to understand this was dangerous thing to do,” he said.

“People could have died or been seriously injured.

“The risks of an occupied building catching fire are terrifying.”

Wiggins was sentenced to two-and-a-half years imprisonment and will serve half in custody before becoming eligible for release.

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