Jailed: Man hit by 'bedroom tax' who torched Whitley home and watched it burn from deckchair

Wiltshire Times: John Marshall John Marshall

A man who torched his home of 21 years in the middle of the night because he feared eviction has been jailed for two years.

John Marshall, 57, said he could no longer afford the rent on the three-bedroomed house owned by Selwood Housing Association after his benefit was cut under the Government's 'bedroom tax'.

So he set light to the end terrace in Eden Grove, Whitley, at 3am then, after rousing neighbours, sitting outside in a deckchair watching the blaze.

And when someone asked if he had called the fire brigade he replied: "No, let it burn. I am not paying no bedroom tax. Selwood are to blame for this".

But a judge at Swindon Crown Court heard on Friday the fire had left forced another family into temporary accommodation and with children terrified as a result.

Tessa Hingston, prosecuting, told how the people next door were woken in the early hours of Saturday, January 25, by Marshall shouting through the letter box.

He was telling them to get out because the place was on fire and they emerged to see him in the deck chair.

She said the son of Marshall's partner said he was 'out of his head on drink' when he set light to a pillow in a bedroom and dropped molten plastic on the floor.

When the fire investigator examined the building her found fires had been started in two bedrooms and also downstairs in the property.

Miss Hingston said the housing association had initially put the damage at £100,000 as the house will need to be completely rebuilt.

She said there was also smoke damage to three other houses and the incidental costs of putting up people elsewhere.

One set of neighbours said they had been forced to leave their home of ten years as a result of the fire and were in cramped temporary housing.

Marshall pleaded guilty to arson being reckless as to whether life was endangered.

Marcus Davey, defending, said: "It is clear after starting the fire it was he who had alerted the neighbours.

"If I can colloquially refer to it as the bedroom tax, he was told he was going to have to leave this property.

"The rent went up and he was £35 a week short. He had lived in the property for 21 years, his daughter had grown up there.

"Your Honour will see in the report all his memories of his second wife, in the psychiatric report 'I thought they were taking my memories'.

"This was a man who didn't have much. He describes going without food or heating in order to try and make up the £35 a week. Despite his efforts he could not make good."

He said his client was 'clearly not thinking properly' as he had done a lot of work on the house over the years.

Recorder Ian Lawrie QC said: "I have read the reports with interest not without some sense of sympathy.

"I was very struck about what this house meant to you in terms of its memories and how you felt on this day when you set light to three different places in this property.

"Yes I understand and have some sympathy but you deliberately started three seats of fire for in one view through your selfish actions.

"The nature of fire once it is set, it is hard to control until the fire brigade arrives. You have destroyed the home you clearly loved so much but you have also done damage to the homes of neighbours."

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