Fri, 29 Jun 2012
A FORMER police officer has been cleared of setting fire to a neighbour's house during a New Year's Eve party in Kidderminster.
Party guests fled from the house in Walton Close, Birchen Coppice, when mattresses began burning in the bedrooms of Craig and Sharon Such.
Guests tried to quell the flames with buckets of water but there was considerable damage and Mr Such was kept in hospital overnight after inhaling smoke.
Neighbour Satinder Gandham was arrested and charged with arson being reckless whether life would be endangered. She pleaded not guilty and was cleared by the jury after a four-day trial at Worcester Crown Court.
Gandham, a 34-year-old single mother, said she had always got on well with the Such family next door and had been invited to the party, where she had been drinking and joining in the fun by mimicking a character from EastEnders.
She had gone upstairs at one point and spoken to James Smith, a security guard who was a lodger at the Such home. She asked him for a lighter, which he said he did not have.
Mr Smith admitted that he had been interviewed by police but no further action had been taken. He denied a suggestion by Mark Kelly, defending, that he had started the fire himself.
Mr Smith said he smelled smoke and ran downstairs to give the alarm. The jury was shown a video of guests enjoying the party shortly before they were forced to flee.
Prosecutor Cathlyn Orchard suggested that Gandham's state of mind might have been affected by the fact that she had been dismissed from her job with West Midlands Police on December 23, 2011.
Giving evidence, Gandham said she was sad she had lost her "dream job" with the police but there was no resentment when she had joined the happy family party next door.
She was concerned for the welfare of her six-year-old son and spent the majority of the time in the lounge. She had gone upstairs to take her son to the toilet and that was when she had met Mr Smith.
She denied that she had been trying to paint a picture of him as an arsonist. "I don't know who was responsible for the arson," she said.
Click to view the profile for Mark Kelly - Defending