Woman’s bed fire was a cry for help

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A WOMAN set fire to her bed as a ‘cry for help’ after she did not receive medical attention for mental health problems, a court heard.

Lorna McDonald, aged 48, started a blaze in her one-bedroom bungalow on Ellesmere Walk, Pitsmoor, causing about £10,000 damage.

Sheffield Crown Court heard she set her mattress alight by burning pages from a book and tried to set fire to her sofa.

She had taken an overdose of prescribed medication the night before the incident on August 20, but discharged herself from hospital without seeing the mental health crisis team.

Judge Simon Lawler QC said she had committed a very serious offence. “Fire is dangerous and one never knows what’s going to happen,” he said.

But sparing her from jail, he added: “You require help more than anything else.”

Neil Coxon, prosecuting, said McDonald called the emergency services just after 4.40am. A fire crew arrived six minutes later and quickly put it out.

“She said she had started the fire in the bedroom by tearing pages out of a book and used an electric fire to set fire to them.

“She said she’d been having difficulties and the intention was to set her property on fire as a cry for help. She had been to hospital the previous Friday but left before she saw the crisis team.”

After her arrest, McDonald was declared unfit to be interviewed. Doctors diagnosed her with paranoid schizophrenia.

Specialist fire investigator Michael Mason said McDonald applied the book to her single bed mattress and pushed the sofa up against her electric fire.

No-one was in the house next door to McDonald’s bungalow, owned by Sheffield Homes. Mr Mason said it was unlikely the fire would have spread.

Her bedroom showed signs of heavy smoke damage. The bed was 80 per cent destroyed.

Ian Goldsack, defending, said McDonald started the fire ‘seemingly on impulse.’ She used a significant amount of cannabis.

McDonald admitted arson. She had no previous convictions. She was sentenced to a community order with two years’ supervision and 100 hours of unpaid work.