Hospital order put on woman in arson case
A PATIENT put the lives of her neighbours at risk when she set light to her house in Barnstaple after being sent home from a mental hospital.
Miriam Hockridge, aged 29, used a lighter to ignite a pile of clothing in her living room and then fled through a window, Exeter Crown Court was told.
She started the fire just four days after being cautioned by police for trying to break into a mental hospital to demand treatment for a type of schizophrenia.
Neighbours who had two young children fled their home because they feared the fire could spread and firefighters went into the smoke filled house to search for the missing woman.
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Hockridge was sent to a mental hospital after a judge was told she is expected to respond well to treatment.
Hockridge, of Heppenstall Road, Barnstaple, admitted arson being reckless whether life is endangered.
Judge Phillip Wassall made a hospital order under which she will be treated at the Chadwick Lodge medium secure unit in Milton Keynes.
He told her: "This was a very serious offence which could have had catastrophic consequences for anybody coming into contact with the building if this fire had taken hold.
"It was a matter of luck that it did not get worse and firefighters are put at risk when any fire breaks out in a house, so this was extremely dangerous.
"You have been diagnosed with a schizo-affected disorder by two psychiatrists which resulted in risk-taking behaviour which is characteristic of the condition, as are serious episodes of self harm.
"This order is necessary to ensure your health and to protect the public."
David Bowen, prosecuting, said Hockridge started the fire at the house, which is owned by the North Devon Homes Housing Association in the early hours of Friday April 20 this year.
He said: "She set fire to clothing near the sofa in her home and left through a window. The fire burned fiercely for a while but by luck, according to the firefighters, it extinguished itself.
"It left the windows blackened and caused £5,000 damage. Neighbours living next door to the end of terrace home, two adults and two children, became aware of the fire.
"They were alarmed it would set fire to their home and were concerned for the safety of the defendant and called 999 because they thought she was still in it.
"In the meantime Hockridge went to see a boyfriend and admitted setting light to her home. The fire service attended and found the fire had extinguished itself.
"They took the view it was only a matter of luck the fire had not spread and endangered them or the neighbours.
"Hockridge was arrested and admitted starting the fire and said she did so because she did not like her house and had set light to clothing using a cigarette lighter."
Her only previous conviction was a caution for causing damage to a hospital when she tried to get in to ask for treatment a short time before the fire.
Terry Holder, defending, said: "This happened when she wanted to be in hospital prior to this incident and had been there for two or three days and they discharged her.
"When stable she has insight into her condition but she has a low mood at the moment and risk factors persist. It is hoped that in time her treatment will succeed."