NEIGHBOURS leapt into action in a bid to save a family of four they heard screaming for help after a suspected arson attack left them trapped in their flat.
No one died in the blaze at a first-floor property in Jervis Drive, Gosport, on October 24 last year but a jury was told it was rapidly put out by Good Samaritans before firefighters could arrive.
It came as Scott Mawdsley, 29, of Greenlea Grove, reappeared on trial at Portsmouth Crown Court, after denying charges of arson with intent to endanger life and arson being reckless as to whether life would be endangered in connection with the incident.
Mawdsley’s ‘on-off’ lover of ‘nearly 13 years’, Paula Croucher, 52, was inside the flat when the fire occurred just before midnight – alongside her son John Dine and his partner Natalie Traynor, both 28, and their four-year-old daughter, Ella-Mae.
David Lock, a Hampshire expert in fire investigation, told the court splats of a neighbour’s blood were found in the property after he cut his hand breaking a window from the outside to try and extinguish the blaze.
Having called 999, Ms Croucher and her family escaped through a window after being penned in by roaring flames which originated near the front door.
Mr Lock, who was called as a witness by Daniel Sawyer, prosecuting, said an investigation into the fire indicated it was started through the letterbox using an ignitable liquid or aerosol.
The conclusion was partly drawn after a segment of the burning curtain which hung across the front door was fire-tested.
‘We took it away then applied a naked flame to it,’ Mr Lock said.
‘It flamed as long as the cigarette lighter was there, but as soon as you took it away, it stopped.’
Mr Lock said the investigation ‘indicated the presence of liquid’ which could have ‘increased the intensity’ of the fire.
Because the fire trapped the family and caused them to jump out of a window, he deemed the fire to be of peak severity – maintaining at least one fatality could have occurred.
In an October 26 police interview read aloud to the court Mawdsley denied ‘setting fire to anything’.
Questioned about the day of the blaze, he insisted he drank six bottles of Becks beer – the earliest at 8.53am – before going to a nearby Tesco where Ms Croucher gave him tobacco.
He said in a transcript he later visited his father, before returning home around midnight to sleep.
The court heard on Monday Ms Croucher had sent love letters to Mawdsley as he waited for his trial – calling him her ‘rock’.