Arsonist who feared being spied on is jailed for suicide bid blaze which risked her neighbours’ lives

Lauren Darby and the aftermath of the blaze at a flat in Ferrol Road, Gosport.
Lauren Darby and the aftermath of the blaze at a flat in Ferrol Road, Gosport.
Paul Nelson outside Portsmouth Crown Court at an earlier hearing

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AN ARSONIST set fire to her bed in a suicide bid after fearing she was being spied on by people who wanted to ‘harm her,’ a court heard.

Lauren Darby, who suffers from emotionally unstable personality disorder, lit the mattress at her flat in White Swan house, in Ferrol Road, Gosport.

The aftermath of the blaze started by Lauren Darby at a flat in Ferrol Road, Gosport. Picture: CPS

The aftermath of the blaze started by Lauren Darby at a flat in Ferrol Road, Gosport. Picture: CPS

Portsmouth Crown Court heard the 30-year-old had banged on her neighbour’s doors in the six-flat block on the night of the fire – and got someone else to call 999.

When police arrived she was out the building ‘covered in soot’ and ‘coughing and spluttering’ – but refused any treatment from paramedics.

She told firefighters: ‘I didn’t expect it to take four attempts.’

Prosecutor Daniel Sawyer said when spoken to by police she ‘appeared to be speaking to somebody who wasn’t there’.

He added: ‘She repeated the name Jason on several occasions, telling him to “go away”.’

Appearing via videolink, Darby told the hearing: ‘I did find a microphone in my house.’

The flat suffered smoke damage and no other property was affected.

A fire investigator’s report said: ‘Had this fire developed without fire service intervention, the other occupiers of the premises would have been at risk from the effects of the fire.’

Darby admitted to police at the scene she set the blaze but could not be interviewed as she threw a ‘cup of hot liquid’ while being questioned.

The court heard she appeared to be ‘under the influence of drink or drugs’ at 3.30am, the prosecutor said.

Mr Sawyer said she told neighbours: ‘You’re going to have to get out of here as I’ve lit a fire.’

She was dismissed but then knocked on another door at 4am saying: ‘I need to get everybody out.’

Mr Sawyer said: ‘There was no sign of any fire having been lit at that time.

‘The crown presumes this was before the actual fire was lit by the defendant.’

Neighbours had ignored Darby as they had ‘become a little bit used to her behaviour’’.

It was only when a third resident, whose door Darby had knocked on at 4.30am, went to work that the smoke was seen and the fire service called.

Darby had fled to another property and asked a man to call 999 after setting the blaze.

Mrs Justice May jailed Darby for three years and four months after she was told medics had not recommended a hospital order as an alternative to jail.

Sentencing, the judge said: ‘Fires are unpredictable and could easily get out of control even if fire services are called and are there.’

She added: ‘In the circumstances where you were clearly paranoid and disturbed, intent on harming yourself and where you had taken steps to warn everybody else and then to call the emergency services yourself, your culpability is less.’

Darby admitted arson reckless as to whether life was endangered.

Nicola Talbot-Hadley, mitigating, said Darby had ‘fears of others trying to spy on her and trying to harm her’.

She had undergone a ‘significant intensive course’, the barrister said, adding jail would exacerbate her problems.

Darby’s landlord had issued a notice to terminate her contract two years before to the incident due to drug use, anti-social behaviour and not paying rent, the court heard.