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Heroin addict jailed for accidentally starting £5.6m fire at Nottingham train station

Construction defects from refurbishment accelerated spread of blaze that raged for 12 hours

Lizzie Dearden
Home Affairs Correspondent
Tuesday 13 August 2019 20:38 BST
Arsonist starts a fire in a Nottingham Station toilet

A heroin addict has been jailed for accidentally sparking a fire that caused £5.6m of damage to Nottingham railway station.

Gemma Peat had gone into public toilets to smoke heroin and crack cocaine on 12 January 2018, and discarded smouldering debris in a sanitary bin.

Nottingham Crown Court heard that it caught light, and building defects caused the flames to spread into a blaze that raged for 12 hours.

Peat admitted arson after being caught on CCTV leaving the women’s toilets shortly before black smoke started billowing out of the entrance.

The 34-year-old was jailed for two years and one month on Tuesday.

Judge Gregory Dickinson QC told her: “This offence is a consequence of drug addiction. Your reason for going into a toilet was to smoke heroin and crack cocaine.

"At some point you recklessly discarded smouldering debris in a sanitary bin in the cubicle.

“The bin must have been smouldering as you left. You should have realised but you may not have done in your drugged-up state. The harm in this case was, in suitable terms, massive."

The judge said Peat had risked the safety of firefighters, station staff and members of the public.

"It was a stupid and dangerous thing to do,” he added.

“However, it is important to establish that this fire was started recklessly - thoughtlessly but not deliberately.”

Peat's defence barrister, Adrian Langdale, said she was “heavily intoxicated” before the incident.

"She had managed to obtain more drugs and she was in search of somewhere that was warm and dry in order to take them,” he told the court.

"In the next 30 minutes or so she took those drugs - heroin and crack cocaine. A naked flame has to be introduced to take both of those.

"It is likely that she disposed of the materials she used and got rid of it in the only way she could have done - in a sanitary box in the corner.”

A firefighter walks towards the station during the blaze in January 2018 (PA)

Prosecutors said firefighters were called shortly before 6.30am and tackled the initial blaze, but found it had spread to the ceiling.

“The wall that supported the public toilets should have had a compartment that would have provided 60 minutes of fire containment but it didn't extend all the way to the metal roof,” said prosecutor Grace Hale. “There was a gap that enabled the rapid spread of the fire.”

The blaze closed the station, several surrounding roads and a tram line.

More than 100 firefighters were brought in to tackle the fire, which spread to the station's “linking bridge” due to defects from a 2014 refurbishment.

The court heard that builders had “cut corners” after packing the wall supporting the toilet block with a foot of highly flammable polystyrene after realising the ceiling was uneven.

The judge said clearer regulations should have been in place about raising the alarm and closer consideration should have been placed on fire prevention.

“Toilets in public places like railway stations are sometimes used by people who smoke drugs. It is a sad fact but it is true,” he added.

Gemma Peat, 34, was jailed for accidentally starting the blaze (British Transport Police)

”It seems to me that those who are responsible should be aware of that.”

Peat, of Wilford Crescent in Nottingham, had previously committed a total of 108 different offences, including shoplifting, possession of knives and assaulting emergency workers.

After being arrested, she attempted to deflect blame by suggesting other drug users had been present.

Detective Sergeant Shanie Erwin, of British Transport Police, praised the “heroic” actions of the emergency services and railway staff who stopped anyone from being injured.

“This was an incredibly complex investigation, which took many months of meticulous investigative work to bring before the court,” he added.

“Frustratingly, the blaze caused catastrophic damage to the station’s CCTV systems, however we were able to recover this vital evidence thanks to a state of the art digital forensic process.”

Network Rail said it had “learnt lessons” from the blaze, filled the ceiling gap and replaced non-fire-retardant materials.

“The fire has led to the delivery of a significant package of improvements to the station building fabric which we have now carried out in partnership with East Midlands Trains,” a spokesperson added.

Additional reporting by PA

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