Homes evacuated as man threatened to blow up Colne street

editorial image

THREE streets in Colne were evacuated and police negotiators and other emergency services called in when a “suicidal” man threatened to blow up his terrace home - as he had once done exactly that.

Burnley Crown Court heard how Jack Comerford told an officer he was going to turn on the gas, had a knife and was going to cut his throat.

When police checked records, they found, in 1996, Comerford had blown up his home after switching on gas appliances, falling asleep, waking up and then flicking a lighter. The defendant had been seriously hurt in the explosion and had been kept in hospital.

The hearing was told how Comerford, said to have a long history of mental illness, was said to be so attached to his pet parrot he was distraught at the prospect of now being locked up and being parted from it.

The defendant (55), of Clifford Street, Colne, had admitted threatening to destroy property in a way which was likely to endanger life last September 27th. Sentence was adjourned for six months for Comerford to prove he will comply with mental health treatment.

Miss Sarah Statham (prosecuting) said police went to Comerford’s home after being told he was threatening to commit suicide. An officer went to speak to him, but did not get to see him and had to talk to him through the door. The defendant said he had had a row with his brother and was going to kill himself.

After Comerford said he was going to turn on the gas and blow up his home, Clifford Street and two neighbouring streets were evacuated and negotiations began to try to persuade him to come out.

Miss Statham said the area was cordoned off, the ambulance and fire services were put on notice and United Utilities called out to try to cut off the gas to prevent a repeat of 1996.

Comerford, who told officers he had taken a lot of tablets, finally agreed to give himself up after two hours and passed a hammer and two knives through the letter box to police.

The gas supply was cut off at 5 p.m., about the same time Comerford was arrested. The prosecutor said: “I have to concede at no point did he turn on the gas supply, but he made threats.”

Miss Statham said Comerford was taken to hospital because he said he had taken the overdose and when he was released in the early hours of the next morning, he was arrested. The defendant had 28 offences on his record, going back to the the 1970s and after the 1996 incident, he was given a suspended prison term for reckless damage.

Mr Martin Hackett (for Comerford) said he had a long-standing problems with drugs and mental illness.

The barrister continued: “For this defendant to lose his liberty today wouldn’t help him. It wouldn’t help society, in my submission.”

Mr Hackett said Comerford would say he had been sexually abused by his psychiatrist when he was younger, had been prescribed benzodiazepines, had been on the drug for 30 years and was at a loss to know how to come off them.

The barrister said, in reports before the court, the defendant had expressed an intention to harm himself, as he had on the day of the offence.

Mr Hackett continued: “He is very scared of losing his liberty because of what it will mean for him. He is very concerned about the wellbeing of one of his pets and has been very upset. He describes his parrot as thinking it’s the defendant’s partner, he’s that attached to it.”

The lawyer added: “It’s important, in my submission, the defendant didn’t turn the gas on. He is very remorseful about the understandable reaction his behaviour induced.”

Judge Jonathan Gibson said Comerford had recently not been having treatment, as he had been discharged from the community mental health team after not turning up.

He told the defendant: “Had you turned on the gas, I would have had no option but to sentence you to a relatively substantial period of custody. It seems to me you need to be properly treated for your mental illness and it seems to me if I were to send you to custody, for perhaps a period of a number of months, on your release you would be no further forward so far as your treatment is concerned and possibly setback.”

Judge Gibson deferred sentence until October 19th and told the defendant he must not commit any offences, must make appropriate contact with or receive contact from the Crisis Team and must take treatment from those responsible for his care.

The judge added: “If you don’t co-operate, I won’t shy away from a substantial custodial sentence.”