A drunken man carried out his threat to set light to his partner’s home after she left the property following a row one evening last year.

Durham Crown Court heard that as the fire took hold in a bedroom at the rented property in Leadgate, near Consett, Ryan Atkinson left without raising the alert.

He had threatened to start a fire after she left the house to go to her mother’s home, following their disagreement, on Saturday, October 7.

The court heard the couple had argued on their return to her house, in Ash Crescent, after drinking earlier in Consett.

The Northern Echo: Ryan Atkinson carried out his drunken threat to set fire to his now ex-partner's home after a row

After his partner left, Atkinson sent a series of abusive messages and phone calls, challenging another male friend of the woman to a fight, threatening to kill him and then saying he would set fire to her home.

It was only when her family members went to the property later to collect nappies and clothing for her children that they found thick black smoke coming from the house.

Attempts to put out the flames with pans of water were unsuccessful and so an emergency call was made to the fire brigade.

Jonathan Gittins, prosecuting, said the next-door neighbour had to be summoned from her home amid fears the smoke and fire may spread.

The fire service duly extinguished the flames and smoke and, on examination of the damaged property, discovered signs the blaze had been deliberately started in the main bedroom, with an open flame used to ignite material at the base of a bed.

Mr Gittins said the ceiling in the bedroom was burned out, and there was fire damage to timbers in the roof space, enhancing the belief that it could have spread to neighbouring properties if it had been left unattended.

When he was arrested later, Atkinson made no reply to police questioning.

The Northern Echo:

But, at a plea hearing at the court, on November 7, the 22-year-old defendant, of no fixed address, admitted arson being reckless as to whether life was endangered and sending offensive messages.

The case has subsequently been adjourned on more than one occasion for the preparation of a background report on Atkinson by the Probation Service, and for a psychiatric report to be drawn up prior to sentencing.

Although the probation report was before the court yesterday (Wednesday, March 27), the hearing was told no psychiatric assessment had been carried out on the defendant.

Tony Davis for Atkinson, said the probation report was thorough enough to cover all the issues in the case and so he was happy for the sentencing hearing to proceed without a psychiatric assessment.

The court was read a victim statement from Atkinson’s now ex-partner, who said the fire impacted “on every aspect” of her and her children’s lives.

She said they had lost most of their belongings and as she had no house insurance she had to try to find money from her earnings to gradually replace the various items lost in the fire.

They had to live afterwards in her mother’s one-bedroom bungalow, which she said was cramped and unsuitable for all the family.

Mr Davis told the hearing that the defendant has been remanded in custody for a considerable time since admitting the charges.

He told the court the defendant was realistic as to the sentence and acknowledges that but for his use of drink and, or, drugs, he may not have committed the offence.

“It was borne out of a maelstrom, a meltdown, and he was unable to deal with the situation which had developed with his partner.

“Thankfully, he has thoroughly accepted his behaviour and apologises.

“He has expressed remorse throughout, and, I dare say, having to listen to the victim personal statement has further reminded him of the serious nature of his offending.

“It’s, perhaps, of some comfort to those involved when you read, in the report, of the progress he has made.

“He has engaged voluntarily with the agencies available in the custodial setting, the drug and alcohol rehabilitation team and the mental health agencies, to better understand his position.

“His antecedent history demonstrates he’s not a sophisticated offender, with limited previous convictions, albeit centering on impulsive behaviour which, generally speaking, if not always, has been when under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

“If not for that, he would not have offended.”

Judge Nathan Adams told Atkinson: “You took issue with your soon-to-be former partner and she left, so you continued the argument by way of threats in messages and voice calls, threatening to kill the person she was with and burn down her house.

“You proceeded to do exactly that, starting a fire and leaving it completely out of control.

“It was not a detached property and the fire service took the view had they not got there when they did and took control, it would have spread to the neighbouring property.

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“Quite clearly, this was dangerous conduct and the consequences could have been much worse.

“I accept you had not intended those consequences.”

Imposing a five-year prison sentence, Judge Adams also put in place a restraining order, forbidding the defendant from trying to contact or approach his ex-partner for the next ten years.