Woman jailed over death fire

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The Independent Online

A disabled woman was jailed for 12 years today after being convicted of starting a fire that led to the deaths of a mother and her toddler.

Wheelchair-bound Barbara Zhanje, 48, was handed the sentence after being found guilty of two counts of manslaughter and one of arson being reckless to endanger life at St Albans Crown Court, an official confirmed.

During a trial, the court heard she set fire to her ex-boyfriend's bedroom in a shared house in Milton Keynes after he did not answer her phone calls.

Prosecutor Ann Evans said Zhanje went to the home of her ex-partner Ananias Jumbe and, finding he was not there, started the fatal blaze.

The fire took hold, spreading from Mr Jumbe's first floor bedroom in the mid-terrace to the floor above, where Bola Ejifunmilayo, 29, and her three-year-old daughter Fiyin lived.

They died from smoke inhalation.

Zhanje denied all three charges but was convicted today and jailed for 12 years, a court official said.

During the trial, the court heard Zhanje was seen hammering on the door of Mr Jumbe's bedroom shortly before the fire started at the house share in Fishermead Boulevard, Milton Keynes.

The pair met in Luton in 2004 and had an on-off "abusive and volatile" relationship, Ms Evans said.

"By September 2010 he considered that the relationship between the pair was over," she told the court.

"However, Ms Zhanje still considered Mr Jumbe to be her boyfriend."

On September 2 last year, Mr Jumbe left Milton Keynes to see a new girlfriend in Leeds, she said.

Ms Evans said: "You will see from phone records that Ms Zhanje continued to text and call him, eventually Jumbe turned his phone off as he didn't wish to hear from her."

The following Saturday, Zhanje - who has been wheelchair-bound since a car accident last year - persuaded a man she knew through a local church to give her a lift to Milton Keynes from the care home where she lived in Corby, Northamptonshire.

After she was told Mr Jumbe was not in, she went to see a mutual friend but returned to the property later that evening.

When she was told he was away she insisted on waiting inside the house until he returned, jurors were told.

Around half an hour later a neighbour was woken by banging noises coming from the first floor and found Zhanje in tears sitting on the floor outside Jumbe's room with a small black-handled knife beside her, banging on the door.

An hour later another resident, Muna Elmi, who lived on the second floor with the Ejifunmilayos, was woken by the smell of smoke.

Firefighters entered the property to search the second floor but the landing collapsed - causing one of the officers to fall through the floor, injuring himself.

They were unable to get to the back bedroom where Ms Ejifunmilayo and her daughter were and retreated.

The court heard there was confusion as to how many people were in the property at the time and at 4.24am, the crews recorded the property was empty.

The bodies of Ms Ejifunmilayo and her daughter were not found until the next day.