A MAN who tried to burn down the Doncaster block of flats where he lived rather than be evicted has been locked up for the public's protection.
Terrified residents had to be evacuated from Bannister House in Wheatley after Lee Bagshaw set fire to his own flat on the top floor.
A brave neighbour returned to the burning flat to check no-one was inside but the 30-year-old had already left the building on Beckett Road. Doncaster Crown Court was told Bagshaw had been known to start fires since being a child and the judge decided the public needed to be protected from the arsonist.
Unemployed Bagshaw pleaded guilty to a charge of arson being reckless as to whether life would be endangered.
Bannister House is a three-storey block with a mixture of old and young tenants and it was Bagshaw's neighbour, Natasha Booker, who raised the alarm on the evening of August 13 last year.
Gurdial Singh, prosecuting, said other residents heard her shouts of "fire!" after she discovered smoke coming out of his doorway.
Ian McDonald, another tenant who has a young family, got them out safely before returning to the block to see if anyone was in the burning flat.
He could feel the heat on the door handle and the letter box was too hot to touch. Mr Singh said he tried to force the door but had to withdraw because of the smoke.
Fire officers found fires had been lit on the lounge sofa and in two bedrooms, causing devastation to the value of 18,000.
Mr Singh said the defendant had a history of starting fires as a child in his bedroom and other buildings but had never been arrested for them.
Defence counsel Tim Savage said Bagshaw could not offer any explanation for what he did apart from it being out of frustration and on impulse.
"This is the result of being bored, lonely, depressed and being frightened of eviction from the flat," he said. "He doesn't get any pleasure from starting fires and there is no evidence of malice here."
But the judge, Recorder Tom Bayliss QC, told Bagshaw: "This was a determined attempt to burn down this property knowing that on a Friday evening there would be a risk to other occupants of the premises. This was a very bad case of arson.
"You knew the flats were occupied when you left and that danger might be caused to them. I have no doubt that you pose a significant risk to the public by the commission of further offences of arson."
He imposed an indeterminate prison sentence for public protection, ordering Bagshaw to serve a minimum of two years before he can seek parole.
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