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Judge praises neighbours after woman set fire to Carlisle flat

Carlisle Crown Court

A TENANT who set fire to her Carlisle flat, leaving her landlord with a £25,000 damage bill, has been sentenced by a judge.

Stephanie Johnston, 27, was said to have been suffering from mental health difficulties when she started a blaze inside her top floor residence at Willowbank apartments in the city on February 20.

One neighbour, Stephen Redman, called police out of concern for Johnston’s welfare and, as an alarm activated, told the operator that firefighters were also required.

“He banged on all the doors and was able to get the residents out,” prosecutor Tim Evans told Carlisle Crown Court today (FRI). “Another neighbour retrieved a fire extinguisher and they tried to get into the flat. The defendant would not let them in, nor would she leave.”

Firefighters used a sledgehammer to force entry, and found Johnston sat in the kitchen watching her flat burn. She initially denied responsibility, but later admitted a charge of arson being reckless as to whether life was endangered.

Clare Thomas, defending, said remorseful Johnston had served the equivalent of a year’s jail term on remand in custody, was now stable on medication and needed “structured treatment in the community”.

Recorder Christopher Hudson suspended an 18-month jail term for two years, and imposed rehabilitation and unpaid work.

“I do think that the court should recognise the efforts of Mr Redman and the unidentified neighbour,” he said. “It took a lot of courage to do what they did. It would seem they put their safety in danger.”

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