Man jailed for 20 years for blaze murders

A violent thug who murdered a woman and her teenage daughter after starting a devastating fire at their seaside home was jailed for life today.

A judge said serving prisoner Anthony Scrase, 38, would serve a minimum of 20 years for taking the lives of Sally-Ann Baxter Smith, also 38, and 14-year-old Lois.

The mother and daughter died from smoke inhalation after the fierce blaze tore through their mid-terrace house in Beach Road, Eastbourne, East Sussex.

Two other children, a boy and a girl, managed to escape from the burning building without serious injury in the early hours of September 6 2003.

At Lewes Crown Court, shaven-headed Scrase, who has 75 previous convictions, showed no emotion as he was sentenced in front of relatives of the victims.

Judge Mr Justice Keith said Scrase's case was aggravated by the fact that he had set out to kill rather than cause anyone serious harm.

He told him: "The law allows me to pass only one punishment for the crime of murder, and the sentence that I pass is one of life on each of the two counts."

The judge said he was minded to set a minimum term of 24 years but reduced it by four years on account of Scrase's early guilty pleas.

Paying tribute to the victims' friends and family in court, he added: "I hope that the sentencing of Anthony Scrase will now bring a measure of closure, and I know that Sally-Ann and Lois will forever be in your hearts.

"I have no doubt that you would like Scrase to be locked up for the rest of his life but I'm sure that you appreciate that 20 years is the very minimum that Scrase will serve."