Teenager jailed for killing sisters in fire

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The Independent Online

A teenager who killed his two young sisters when he set fire to his family home was today jailed for life with a minimum term of six years.

Shane Spence, 18, was found guilty by a jury at Newcastle Crown Court of the manslaughter of Tatum Leah, 14 and Demi Jade, 12.

He poured petrol on to the living room sofa then set it alight as the family slept at their three-bedroom house in Lisle Road, South Shields, South Tyneside, in April last year.

In February the jury found Spence guilty of manslaughter and arson, but not guilty of the attempted murder of his parents Anita and John, both 37.

The father-of-one, who was not living at the family home at the time, crept in at around 12.45am on April 4, after telling a friend he had gone to pick up a CD.

The teenager, who was 17 at the time, then doused the living room sofa in petrol and set it alight before returning to the friend's house to continue watching the film 28 Days Later.

The fire tore through the house in minutes.

Spence's father John Spence, 37, sustained 42 per cent burns trying to rescue his children, but Demi Jade and Tatum Leah both died in their bedrooms of smoke inhalation and burns.

The court was told that Spence, father to one-year-old daughter Leeanda, had set the family's garden shed alight when he was 12-years-old. He also had three previous criminal convictions.

Prosecuting, Alistair MacDonald QC said Spence's life was "in a state of turmoil" at the time of the fire.

He had attempted suicide a few days earlier, after an argument in which he pushed his girlfriend, the mother of his child.

He had also recently given up his job, which Mr MacDonald said was much to his father's "disgust".

The officer in charge of the investigation, Detective Chief Inspector Mick Paterson, said the inquiry by Northumbria Police had centred on complex forensic issues.

Officers conducted a full reconstruction of the fire using a nearby house, which was owned by the council and due for demolition, to ascertain the timing of the blaze and the speed with which it spread.

Crown Prosecution Service lawyer Paul Simpson said it had been one of the most "difficult and harrowing" cases he had ever been involved in.

Sentencing, Mr Justice Simon passed an indeterminate sentence for the protection of the public. He ordered Spence serve at least six years behind bars before he be considered for parole.

He said: "This case stands as a warning of the appalling consequences of setting fire to houses, even where the intention is not to kill or cause really serious injury.

"In less than half an hour, the house had been engulfed in flames, your two sisters had died and your father had been badly burned.

"The deaths of these two young girls in these appalling circumstances caused shock and outrage and the extent of your parents' grief can only be imagined.

"The reason you set the fire may have been jealousy or sibling rivalry.

"The reason may simply be one that lies beyond the present reach of human understanding.

"In my opinion, these crimes and the circumstances in which they were committed show clearly that you present a considerable risk of serious injury to the public.

"I am not satisfied that life imprisonment is appropriate, but I am clear that it is appropriate to pass an indeterminate sentence for the protection of the public."

Spence will remain on licence for the rest of his life.

The teenager, who the court heard was of low intelligence and was dyslexic, was expressionless as he was led from the dock.

His father, John Spence, a former doorman, is convinced of his innocence.

He said his son had been "set up" and has offered £25,000 for information that will lead to the conviction of the person he believes is responsible for the deaths of his two "babies".

He was too upset to speak after the sentence.

Speaking outside the court, John Spence said: "The verdict was what we expected, but the campaign still goes on. The lad is innocent."