The loner's fantasies that led to death of a firefighter

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The Independent Online
A security guard who caused a fire in which a female firefighter died was found guilty of manslaughter yesterday.

Fleur Lombard, 21, became the first British firewoman to be killed in peacetime service when a "flash-over" fire enveloped her during a blaze at a supermarket. Shortly before her death she had been presented at her graduation with an award called the Silver Axe for the best recruit of her intake.

Ms Lombard's mother, Jane, said yesterday: "I never wanted Fleur to join the service. But it is what she wanted to do. She knew the risks."

Martin Cody, 21, the security guard who started the blaze, had been fascinated by fire since childhood. He started the fire at Leo's store in Bristol after becoming "bored" on his first day. He later telephoned a colleague to say: "It is a good one; it is total."

Cody, from Knowle, Bristol, was found guilty of the manslaughter of Ms Lombard on the eighth day of his trial at Exeter Crown Court - the first day on which reporting restrictions were lifted. He was also found guilty of deliberately setting fire to the store .

The judge, Mr Justice Tuckey, adjourned the hearing until 1 September for reports. Cody was remanded in custody.

David Spens, QC, for the defence, said he would be considering an appeal.

After the verdict, Ms Lombard's father, Roger, spoke of the family's relief at the outcome. "We are also very pleased with the implication that this young man may get psychiatric help. If this is the way the sentencing comes out it would be a good thing."

He added: "We are all extremely proud of her. She died doing what she wanted to do."

Detective Sergeant Steve Gittens, who led the investigation, said: "It has been a very emotional case and we all felt it."

Cody, a self-absorbed character who dreamt of being a hero from an early age, fantasising about performing gallant deeds while wearing uniforms.

As a youth Cody earned the title of the "most bullied schoolboy in Britain", when his mother kept him away from lessons after he claimed that he had suffered severe bullying over three years. His headmaster insisted at the time that it was a much more complex situation than a straightforward case of bullying, and that Cody needed educational support.

During Cody's school years a number of unexplained small fires broke out - in bins, waste piles and behind sheds - often when he was in the vicinity.

His first real job came in March 1995, as a security guard with Integrated Security. His security patrols were marked by small incidents, such as apparent acts of vandalism, or repeated emergency service call-outs and Cody quickly left. Yet within weeks he was again working as a security guard - with Burns International - and went for his first solo duty at Leo's store at Staple Hill.

Paul Chadd, for the prosecution, told the jury how, an hour before the fire, Cody told shop assistant Louise Mains: "This is boring. I wish something exciting would happen."

Afterwards, before he learnt of Ms Lombard's death, Cody had seemed "happy". A witness saw him punching downwards with his clenched fist and shouting "yes" in a gesture like a "footballer who had just scored a goal".

Ironically, Cody had helped the store's deputy manager to escape by smashing a window with a microwave oven.

During the trial members of the jury came close to tears as they heard how Ms Lombard died in the "flash-over" - a horrifying explosion caused by a combination of extreme fire conditions which sent temperatures soaring to about 1,000C.

The newly-qualified firefighter was a member of blue watch at Bristol's Speedwell Fire Station at the time the alarm was raised.

Soon after entering the pitch-black building the teams were ordered to evacuate as explosions tore through the roof of the two-storey store. Seconds later the "flash-over" erupted. In a statement, fireman Patrick Foley described how he returned with other rescuers to find Ms Lombard. "I could see only the remains of clothing on her body. I could not see her mask or helmet. As soon as we laid her down I heard someone say `She's gone'."