Arsonist jailed after being rescued from burning flat - twice

PUBLISHED: 07:00 25 June 2012

Lee John and Mark Hall

Lee John and Mark Hall

Archant

THREE brave men have been commended for their ‘extraordinary’ bravery by a judge after saving a woman from a burning flat - twice.

Claire Murray was this week jailed after setting fire to her flat in a tower block on Weston’s Oldmixon estate in an attempt to kill herself.

But three of her neighbours put their own lives at risk to save her and were praised at a hearing at Bristol Crown Court on Monday.

The court heard that 37-year-old alcoholic Murray set fire to curtains in the living room of her fifth-floor flat at Bruton House in Monkton Avenue at about 9pm on March 6.

As the building’s fire alarm went off, neighbour Lee John and his friend Luke Nielsen rushed into her room in an attempt to rescue her while Mr John’s own family evacuated alongside other residents.

Braving the thick black smoke, they found Murray and carried her struggling out of the flat.

But as soon as they had carried her to safety she recovered and dashed back into the flat and the duo were overcome by the smoke as they tried to enter for a second time but were unable to rescue her.

Timothy Hills, prosecuting, told the court on Tuesday that a neighbour on the floor above Murray’s flat, Mark Hall, heard crashing and banging coming from her flat shortly after and decided to investigate.

Seeing that her flat was ablaze, he pulled his shirt over his head to ward off the smoke, went into her flat and pulled her out for a second time.

Fire crews then arrived and put out the blaze. When Murray recovered she told the firefighters she was sorry for starting the fire.

Father of two Mr John said: “When we got there, there was black smoke billowing out of the letter box.

“I think anybody would do what we did, she was my neighbour.”

Mr Hall added: “I couldn’t even see my hand in front of my face when I went in her flat, the smoke was that thick.”

Murray pleaded guilty to one count of arson at a hearing on March 22.

Rosaleen Collins, defending, said Murray had a serious alcohol problem and had set the flat alight in an attempt to die like her mother, who perished in a fire when her daughter was three.

She said Murray had written to her rescuers to thank them.

In sentencing, Judge Martin Picton told Murray: “You put at risk people living there, including those who came to rescue you and they showed great bravery in doing so.

“They should be commended for showing extraordinary bravery in putting their own lives at risk to protect other people.”

He also ordered that each of the men be given £100 each from the public reward fund.

Murray was sentenced to 32 months’ imprisonment. She will serve half of that behind bars, and the second half in licensed accommodation.

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