Jail for psychiatric nurse mum who set fire to own home with daughter inside

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A PSYCHIATRIC nurse who torched her home while her little girl was inside has been jailed for two years.

Burnley Crown Court was told Paula Ward (38), who had two children, was a victim of domestic violence. She told a colleague she had been seriously assaulted by her husband and felt like getting back at him by burning the house down.

Ward admitted arson being reckless as to whether the life of the young girl was endangered.

She was depressed and drank a litre and a half of vodka before starting two fires at the house in Greenbrook Close, Burnley, that she shared with her daughter, who was then eight, The house was owned by her mother-in-law.

One fire was in the garage and Ward also smeared barbecue gel on the inside of the letter box, but had little memory of what she had done.

A neighbour raised the alarm after seeing smoke. Ward was shouting hysterically for the neighbour to catch the girl, who was with her at an upstairs bedroom window. The neighbour also heard a reference to petrol, but could not hear the exact words. Both Ward and the girl were rescued by firefighters. Her own mother said Ward’s actions were a “cry for help”. Judge Jonathan Gibson said: “Plainly what you did put your daughter’s life at very considerable danger. You also put your own life in danger and there could have been danger to others in neighbouring houses as well.”

He added: “I am satisfied you were under a severe amount of stress at the time and were taking drink to try to cope.”

Miss Jennifer Blewitt (prosecuting) said Ward initially denied starting the fires, claiming she took her daughter to the window so she would not suffer from the smoke. She said the conversation with a colleague, reported to police after the fire, was in a wholly different context and had not been referring to any specific intent on her part to start a fire. She could not explain how the fires started.

Mr James Heyworth (defending) said Ward had done a house swop with her mother-in-law and it was not a home she shared with her husband. Her behaviour and recollection had been affected by the vodka she had that night.

Ward’s conduct had been out of character and its root cause was domestic violence and alcohol; a chain of events led to the fire. In June she had been treated in hospital after an assault and filed a complaint with the police. By the time of the fire, she was drinking and had depression, both of which were a by-product of the abusive relationship she had been in.

Mr Heyworth said Ward deeply regretted what had happened. She was close to her daughter, who had been to see her and been distressed, but she had not been able to physically comfort her, as contact was not allowed.

He added: “It is sad to see her in this situation, sad she behaved in that particular way and sad for a great number of people, her included.”

Ward had been seen by mental health staff during her 123 days on remand, and had been given anti-depressants.