A MAN has been jailed for seven-and-a-half years after a court heard he threatened to burn down his former partner’s home just days before he started a fire which could have killed them.
He had earlier sent her a sympathy card with a photograph of the five Philpotts family children who were killed in a house fire in Derby.
Days later Barry Ian Turnbull set fire to a bin outside the woman’s home which damaged windows and plastic pipes while the family were asleep in their beds, which could have allowed toxic fumes inside.
Judge Rhys Rowlands, sitting at Mold Crown Court, told Turnbull he had put the victim and her family at significant risk.
But fortunately, the smoke had been spotted by a neighbour and the alarm raised.
“I do not use the terms lightly but your behaviour was quite frankly evil,” the judge told him.
The court heard how Turnbull, 45, wrote ‘RIP’ on the sympathy card and said he had a date and time in his head.
“I am going to burn your house down.
“It will be soon. Have a good sleep,” he wrote in earlier text messages.
Turnbull, of Vyrnwy Way, Wrexham, admitted arson being reckless as to whether life would be endangered, putting his ‘ex’, Sarah Betteridge, in fear that violence would be used against her, and threatening to destroy property.
He was cleared of a more serious charge of arson intending to endanger life.
Retired fireman Ian Ranson, who could not sleep that night and saw smoke and raised the alarm, was commended by the judge for his actions.
The judge said he may well have averted a tragedy and asked the police to write to him to congratulate him.
In addition to the jail sentence, a 10-year restraining order was made not to approach the family, their home or to write anything about them on social media.
The judge said the defendant’s harassment was an attempt to make his victim’s life hell, putting them under appalling stress.
He then sent the victim a photo of the children in the Philpotts fire tragedy, something the judge described as “beneath contempt”.
He said: “All right-thinking people would view that as nothing short of wicked.”
When he started the fire and put his victims at real risk, he simply left the scene .
“You showed no concern at all for those inside the house,” he said. “You left, no doubt feeling very pleased with yourself at the time.”
He was aware that Miss Betteridge was already terrified of fire following a blaze at her mother’s home when she was a child.
The court heard how the victim, who is deaf, and her three children were fast asleep when the arsonist struck in the early hours of April 12.
Miss Betteridge ended the relationship at the start of the year but she was subjected to a series of text messages which became more abusive and threatening.
He told how her home was “going up” and that the family “would burn, the lot of you”.
She went to the police and he was served with a harassment notice and warned to stay away.
But his harassment escalated with more threats, he cut her phone line, he threw a brick through a window, and at one stage he swerved towards her while riding his bike.
Turnbull said he would kill her, that he would chop her head off.
One text read “she can run but she cannot hide”.
In March, she received one which read: “I’ve got my eyes on you. I’m going to burn the lot of you”. Then he wrote: “Next time the house is going up. I mean what I say.”
The text messages continued including “you are all going to burn in hell soon”.
At 2am on April 12 the fire in the bin at the rear of the property was discovered when she and her family were safely evacuated.
Sion ap Mihangel, prosecuting, said that in a victim impact statement, Miss Betteridge had said: “I don’t think my little family will every truly get over what has happened. The damage has been done. I only hope we can move on.”
He said Turnbull even continued to write to her when he was in prison.
Andrew Green, defending, said the offences represented an obsession. He now accepted he had been unable to let go of the relationship.
There was an absence of physical harm, but accepted there would have been psychological harm.
Turnbull was full of remorse and appreciated how terrified his victim would have been.
The judge said he believed Turnbull was now sorry for the predicament he found himself in.