A MAN fulfilled a drunken pledge to start a fire at his former partner’s home.

Several hours after being asked to leave, John Hepple forced his way into the, by then, unoccupied terraced house in Bishop Auckland, late on June 21.

He headed to the front bedroom where he set light to a spare mattress pushed against a wall.

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Durham Crown Court heard that neighbours had seen Hepple kicking at the door to gain entry, shortly before the fire started.

Firefighters summoned to the scene restricted the blaze to the bedroom, although the rest of the property, in West View, was smoke-logged.

Dan Cordey, prosecuting, told the court: “Thankfully, in the end, there was no danger to life and limb.

“But, clearly, the danger of this kind of fire is evident in a row of terraced houses, even though he knew there was no-one in the house at that time.”

Hepple then went to a house where his ex-partner was visiting a friend, supposedly reporting that he had come across someone who told him her home was on fire.

Mr Cordey said his claim was checked and proved untrue, although when arrested he denied responsibility for starting the fire.

The court heard that the previous day, after drinking heavily, he had talked about setting the property alight, but Mr Cordey said there was no evidence of any petrol or other accelerant being used.

Hepple, 36, of Beaumont Street, Bishop Auckland, admitted arson being reckless as to whether life or property was endangered.

Chris Baker, mitigating, said, despite his denials in police interview, Hepple indicated his guilt at his first court appearance.

“It’s right to say he struggles to deal with difficult situations.

“Those previous comments were not meant to indicate he was planning to set fire to the house.

“In drink, he lets his mouth ‘go’. It seems to go hand in hand.

“He was suffering depression at the time, which would have contributed significantly to this offence being committed.

“In effect, he became depressed with the breakdown of the relationship.”

Recorder Jonathan Bennett told Hepple: “There are a number of serious aspects to this case.

“It was the home where you had lived until earlier that day, and although no-one was there at the time, many belongings were damaged.

“Also, it was in a terrace, potentially causing danger to neighbours if it had spread.”

Recorder Bennett jailed Hepple for three years and four months.