Arson case woman freed

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A WOMAN convicted of involvement in an arson attack in which a mother and her two daughters died walked free from court yesterday.

After two days of legal argument at Bristol Crown Court, a judge decided that Donna Clarke should not face a retrial. The retrial had been ordered by the Court of Appeal earlier this year when it quashed her original conviction for arson with intent to endanger life.

As she was led away from court yesterday, Ms Clarke, 28, said: "I am innocent."

Earlier, her mother Christine Clarke said: "I feel I am in pieces. This is what we have been waiting for for three years. My sympathies are with the family of Diane Jones who died. They have not got justice.

"Someone out there knows who is responsible and knows the pain they have caused. So much damage has been caused over the past three years. We are trying to rebuild our lives and today's verdict is a start."

The case relates to an arson attack on the home of Diane Jones on the rundown Gurnos estate in south Wales, in the autumn of 1995. The fire was started by petrol being poured through the letter-box of her home and then ignited. Mrs Jones and her daughters, Shauna, two, and Sarah- Jane, 13 months, were killed in the blaze.

Yesterday in court, the judge, Mr Justice Alliott, said the case should lie on the file. He said that to proceed further would be to put the defendant in double jeopardy - meaning she could not be tried twice essentially for the same offences.

The move follows the decision last February to free Ms Clarke's aunt, Annette Hewins, who had also been convicted in 1997 of involvement in the attack.