Sock fire squatter jailed

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A SQUATTER who endangered lives by setting fire to a “smelly” sock and leaving it to burn could be jailed for life if he ever commits a similar offence.

Hartlepool man Malcolm Waddington, while high on a cocktail of drink and drugs, lit the sock “because it was smelly”, left it in an ashtray and went to the shops.

Teesside Crown Court heard Waddington, 32, had been thrown out of the house in Stephen Street, Hartlepool, after being sentenced to three months in prison for stealing copper piping from the terraced house, leading to water damage.

After being released from that prison term, despite the house being boarded up and Waddington “no longer being welcome”, he gained entry and was living there as a squatter at the time of the blaze.

Sentencing the dad-of-three to two-and-a-half years in prison, Judge Peter Bowers told Waddington: “This was a short-lived and relatively contained fire.

“The real problem is the risk of fire spreading to adjoining houses is not something you can necessarily control.

“If you had intended to harm there would have been a different charge and the sentence would have been seven to eight years.

“If you get a second conviction for arson of any kind I suspect you will get an indefinite sentence – people will say you are a risk too far.”

Prosecutor Richard Parsell added: “On Saturday, April 16, at about 7.40pm, a call was made to Cleveland Fire Brigade advising there was a fire.

“Upon arrival, the fire had been extinguished but it was believed the fire had been started deliberately.”

The court heard police officers attended the scene, and Waddington was outside the house.

Mr Parsell said he was drunk, smelled of smoke had black carbon on his hands and after refusing to tell police what happened was arrested and interviewed.

Waddington told police he had “antibiotics, two bags of heroin and a few pints of Jack Daniels”.

Mr Parsell added: “He said he set fire to a sock and left it to burn in an ashtray while he had gone to the shop.

“He said he did it because it was smelly.”

Waddington, of Stephen Street, whose 16-year record includes theft, criminal damage and driving while disqualified, admitted arson being reckless as to whether life was endangered on April 16.

Nicholas Lumley, mitigating, said Waddington never intended to hurt anyone.

He added: “The fire was extremely small and short-lived.

“It wasn’t a serious or sustained effort and there were no obvious accelerants used.

“The damage was minimal – it was a corner of a rug, a TV and the remains of a burned plimsoll.

“There was no question here to life in fact being endangered.

“The police did not even trouble to take witness statements from neighbouring houses.”