A TROUBLED woman has been jailed after deliberately trying to burn down her own home in what a crown court judge described as a “deeply shocking” incident.
Madeleine Elizabeth Duce was on police bail when she lit seven separate fires throughout the house in Greenlands Road, Newbury, on the evening of Monday, June 5.
Investigators also later discovered the smoke alarm had been covered with a plastic bag.
After being forcibly dragged from the burning building by a neighbour, Duce continued to laugh and shout abuse in the street as she watched the house, where she had lived as a lodger for just a couple of weeks, become engulfed in flames.
The 30-year-old, who had been struggling with alcohol abuse, was jailed for a total of two years and eight months for arson, as well as a number of other offences.
A court heard how the former facilities administrator had, just a month before, bitten a male police officer on the arm after he ignored her “romantic” advances and on the same evening had kicked a female officer in a racially motivated attack.
However, it was while on bail for the assaults that the disturbed Duce committed her most serious offence.
Speaking at the sentencing at Reading Crown Court on Friday (August 11), prosecutor Michael Roques told the court how on the day of the fire, Duce had contacted police and expressed suicidal thoughts.
Officers attended the address, and, after speaking with Duce, had left her in the care of her mother.
Later that evening though, when Duce was alone at the property, she used a cigarette lighter to start multiple fires throughout the house.
Fortunately, despite the smoke alarm being covered, it was activated as the fire took hold and neighbours, including a family with three young children next door, were able to evacuate their own homes and contact the fire service at around 11.55pm.
Mr Roques told how Duce may have remained in the inferno if it were not for the heroic actions of neighbour Gary Basham who had kicked down the front door and forcibly dragged her outside.
“Here, the defendant’s behaviour was described as erratic,” said Mr Roques.
“Laughing and blaming [Mr Basham] for having pulled her out -– she was shouting and swearing”
The bravery of Mr Basham was commended by the judge after it was revealed he then went back into the blaze to look for others.
However, Duce on that evening had been alone in the house.
The court heard how the fire left the first floor smoke damaged and had had a huge impact, “financially, psychologically and emotionally”, on the landlord of the property who also lived there with his mother and her partner.
Defending, Ellis Sareen said his client was “acutely aware of all the harm she has caused” and urged the judge to suspend any custodial sentence to allow Duce to seek help for her alcoholism through a residential treatment programme.
Mr Sareen explained how alcoholism had affected Duce’s sister and mother, with her sibling having successfully beaten her addiction through such a programme.
The defence barrister also said the smoke alarm had, according to Duce, been covered by a plastic bag before the date of the fire to prevent it going off in the event of burning food in the kitchen.
Sentencing judge Ian Grainger said: “The psychological report tells me when you’re sober you have no such problems, apart from depression,” he said.
“The problem appears when you get drunk.”
He continued: “Your mother, it seems, is an alcoholic and so is your sister.
“Your mother remains an alcoholic, your sister is not.
“However, neither your sister, nor your mother, have attempted to burn down a house.
“It remains quite out of the question that this sentence should be suspended.
“This was a deeply shocking offence of arson which has untold consequences on the landlord and others.”
Duce was sentenced to two years and four months for one charge of arson – being reckless as to whether life is endangered; a total of three months for two charges of assaulting an officer in the execution of his or her duty and one month for breaching a suspended prison sentence imposed by the court last year.
She was also ordered to pay a victim surcharge of £170.