Alcohol problems led to house fire ‘cry for help’

Preston Crown Court
Preston Crown Court
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A woman set fire to her Blackpool home in a cry for help over her alcoholism, a court was told.

Sylvia Smith set her bedroom alight before her son poured water over burning material and managed to get her out of the room.

A court heard she had a drink problem for a number of years and had been profoundly affected by “tragic and distressing events in the extreme” in her early life in Northern Ireland.

The 55-year-old woman has now been placed on 
supervision for three years over the fire at her address on Oakleaf Way, Blackpool, on January 30.

Smith pleaded guilty to a charge of arson being 
reckless whether life would be 

Peter Barr, prosecuting at Preston Crown Court, said the woman had been drinking for most of the day.

She asked her son to phone a crisis team to assist her, but he refused. The judge dealing with the case said he was sure the son had good reason for doing that.

Smith went on to start a fire in her bedroom, the court was told.

Mr Barr said: “It is clear she wished to self harm by the fire.

“Ultimately, her son managed to get her out of the house.”

Smith said she could not explain what happened in the bedroom.

Jacob Dyer, defending, said the offence had literally been a cry for help.

“She was seeking help from the crisis team. She wanted some help, some intervention.

“Thankfully, it was a relatively modest fire.

“There was little damage actually done.

“She is clearly full of 
remorse for what took place and the effect it might have had on any of the neighbours at the time.

“Alcohol dependency is the root of all her current 

“An alcohol problem started when she was 31 or 32 as a coping mechanism. It 

Mr Dyer said before the 
offence, Smith had abstained from drinking for a number of weeks. A relapse followed on New Years Eve.

“It was always her intention and wish to have residential rehabilitation,” he said.

“That’s what she was 
actively seeking prior to the relapse.

“Ironically, there is now the place and the funding. At the time of the offence, that stage had not been reached.

“She is desperate to go there. She has been in custody for a little under three months and could not have done more in terms of seeking help.”