Homeless drunk who is still in prison five years after setting fire to a friend’s house fails with court challenge

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A HOMELESS drunk who is still in prison five years after setting fire to a friend’s house has failed in a Court of Appeal challenge to his potentially lifelong jail sentence.

Mark James Milne, 41, drunkenly used petrol and a box of matches to set fire to the house in Peterlee shortly after leaving prison following a sentence for criminal damage in July 2008.

The alcoholic pleaded guilty to criminal damage and reckless arson at Durham Crown Court in December 2008 and was later sentenced to indefinite imprisonment for public protection.

His jail term is almost identical to a standard life sentence, meaning Milne, of no fixed address, can only be freed when considered safe.

Milne’s lawyers tried to overturn the sentence on appeal, contesting that it is not necessary to protect the public, but saw their arguments thrown out of court by three senior judges in London.

Judge Peter Rook, sitting with Lord Justice Davis and Mr Justice Spencer, said there was ample evidence to suggest that Milne is a “dangerous” man from who the public need protection.

The court heard he had a long history of drug and alcohol abuse, but it was his prolific drink intake, often having four bottles of wine a day, which lay at the root of his offending.

The court heard he poured petrol through a hole in the window, lit a match and threw it inside, setting fire to the carpet as the terrified occupant looked on.

When he was finally sober, he expressed remorse, saying he couldn’t understand why he did what he did.

On appeal, his lawyers argued that, since he recognised that drink was at the heart of his troubles and now wanted to stay booze-free, a sentence which allowed an automatic release was justified. An “extended” sentence involving a longer licence period, during which he could be closely monitored after release, would have been justified, but was not considered at the crown court, the judges were told.

Refusing the appeal, Judge Rook said: “We don’t consider that there is any merit in the point. In our view, it is inconceivable that the trial judge would not have had the sentencing option of an extended sentence in mind.”

The decision means Milne will stay in prison until the Parole Board considers he is no longer a risk to the public.