Arsonist is given six life sentences

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The Independent Online
A barman who murdered a mother and her five children by setting fire to their fourth floor flat, was given six life sentences at the Old Bailey yesterday.

Judy Newell, 35, and her children were said to have "screamed and screamed" as fire engulfed them at their flat in Bermondsey, south London.

The court was told Scott Vowls, 24, set the fire, but the Newells had not been his target - he had wanted to settle a trivial argument with Mrs Newell's brother who, unknown to him, had moved out. Mrs Newell and her family had only been living in the flat for two days.

Vowls, of Bermondsey, had denied six charges of murder. But the jury found him guilty on a majority verdict.

One witness described the family as "looking like burning ghosts" as they perished. Mrs Newell, her children, Courtney, seven, Curtis, three, Nathan, one, and Cassandra, six, died in the blaze in january 1995. Ashley, four, survived the fire but died later in hospital. Neighbours implored the mother to jump and throw down her children. They had mattresses and blankets ready to catch them.

After the jury convicted Vowls, police revealed he was a persistent firebug who was linked with fires at previous addresses but had never been prosecuted.

Vowls had trapped the family by placing a burning mattress outside the bedroom door. "To cause maximum devastation Vowls turned on four gas burners on the hob and turned the gas oven on," Richard Horwell, for the prosecution, said.

The arson attack was prompted by a trivial domestic row about untidiness and unpaid bills. Vowls was plotting his revenge against Mrs Newell's brother, Lee Newell, whom he had shared the flat with before moving out. But Lee Newell had given up his room to his sister and her children who had nowhere to stay after leaving the children's father.

On the night of the killing Vowls and his dog were seen outside the flats by witnesses.

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