Mother cleared of killing sons in fire

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The Independent Online

A pub landlady was cleared yesterday of killing her two sons and a plumber who tried to save the boys in an alleged arson attack at the woman's public house.

A pub landlady was cleared yesterday of killing her two sons and a plumber who tried to save the boys in an alleged arson attack at the woman's public house.

Kate Knight, 32, was found not guilty of starting the fire at the Prince of Wales pub in Stoke Newington, north London after a row with her husband.

The Old Bailey heard that her husband, Kevin, 46, had a criminal record for drug offences and admitted that he may have underworld enemies. But he denied a suggestion that the Adams crime family from north London were after him over a drug debt.

The couple's children, Charlie, four, and Christopher, 10, were sleeping upstairs in the pub at around 2am on 27 July 2003 when a fire broke out near a stairwell on the ground floor. Five children aged from three to 11 were trapped.

The court was told that Ronnie Springer, 45, a plumber who had been drinking at the pub during an after-hours "lock in", gave his life to save two girls. After lowering them from a first-floor window, he fell, overcome by burns and smoke. He died six weeks later.

Three boys were rescued by firemen but Mrs Knight's two sons died in hospital. Mrs Knight was alleged to have started the fire in a drunken rage after her husband walked out during a row leaving her to look after the five children.

She was said to have told drinkers that she had discovered a fire in the back of the pub, but had put it out. Moments later the drinkers were forced to flee as fire took hold. Fire investigators discovered that the blaze started when a cloth and paper towel doused with white spirit and lighter fuel caught fire at the foot of the stairs. An open, empty bottle of white spirit was found in one corner of a storeroom at the back of the pub.

The jury were told there was no scientific evidence linking her to the fire and the blaze could have been started by someone squirting lighter fluid and white spirit through the pub letterbox.

The jury cleared her of manslaughter and reckless arson.

Lauren Soertsz, for the defence, told the jury that the prosecution had failed to show a motive for her client starting the fire. She said that Mrs Knight and her husband were a "feisty couple who had a drink-fuelled argument", which was "normal".

Mrs Knight, who did not give evidence in court, told police who arrested her: "You have got it wrong. They were my babies."