Woman guilty over flat fire deaths

 

A woman has been convicted of two counts of manslaughter after
she started a fire at a block of flats which killed two women, police
said today.

Sandra Clarke, 50, set off the blaze on the day there was due to be a county court hearing over her rent arrears.

Flames spread through the tower block and claimed the lives of two women in a neighbouring flat.

Clarke, of Marine Tower, Deptford, south-east London, had denied the charges against her, claiming someone else got into her council-owned accommodation and started the fire while she was out.

But jurors did not believe her and she was today found guilty at Woolwich Crown Court.

The court heard how Clarke bought two cans of lighter fuel from a local shop on February 4 last year before starting two separate fires in her flat - number 61 - on the 16th floor, at the top of the tower block.

Prosecutor Timothy Cray said the flames spread across the whole floor.

Kunaliny Alagaratnam, 42, lived in flat 63 with her husband and two young children. Her family were out but Mrs Alagaratnam and her cousin Santhirapathy Tharmalingham, 59, were overcome by smoke and were later found dead.

Mr Cray said examination of the scene showed someone deliberately started fires in the living room and bedroom.

"Two fires of this kind don't start by accident," he told the court.

"Someone wanted to set flat 61 alight."

He told the court Clarke had told police someone else must have come into her flat after she left to buy the lighter fuel.

"At this time this defendant was living a chaotic life. She was a woman with serious problems in her life," the prosecutor added.

"She rarely slept at flat 61, she told the police she often slept rough on the streets. There was also a background of problems between her and Lewisham Council who owned the flat.

"She was in arrears with her rent and there was actually a county court date fixed to deal with the arrears on the flat for the very day the fire was started."

He also said Clarke had a "hostile attitude" to the housing association, accusing it of having spies in the building.

"This defendant had motivation to hate the way that she was living and in her mind to see this flat and the council as a source of her problems," he added.

The two victims, originally from Sri Lanka, called 999 as they were overcome by smoke at around 2.47pm. They were found at about 3.10pm and were pronounced dead at 4.15pm.

The cause of death was found to be inhalation of smoke.

Detective Chief Inspector Amanda Hargreaves, of Scotland Yard's Homicide and Serious Crime Command, said: "I am pleased that Clarke has been convicted today and I hope that she will spend the considerable time she will serve in prison reflecting on how her actions ruined the lives of two families."

Clarke will be sentenced at Woolwich Crown Court on June 1.

PA

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

Setting in motion the Internet of Things

British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

Cult competition The Moth goes global

The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

Pakistani women come out fighting

Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

Education: LGBT History Month

Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
11 best gel eyeliners

Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

Climate change key in Syrian conflict

And it will trigger more war in future
How I outwitted the Gestapo

How I outwitted the Gestapo

My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
The nation's favourite animal revealed

The nation's favourite animal revealed

Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
Is this the way to get young people to vote?

Getting young people to vote

From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot