Neighbours tell of their terror at arson scene

Fire damage at a property on Cresswood Ave, Anchorsholme. Below: Darren Derbyshire.
Fire damage at a property on Cresswood Ave, Anchorsholme. Below: Darren Derbyshire.
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Neighbours today relived the terrifying moment a blaze ripped through a home after it was deliberately torched.

Alcoholic Darren Derbyshire, 41, has been jailed for five years after setting light to bedclothes at his girlfriend’s home in Cresswood Avenue, Anchorsholme.

Darren Derbyshire

Darren Derbyshire

A court heard the pair had a “tempestuous and difficult” relationship.

The fire gutted the three-bedroom house rented by Victoria Riding and her three children, and forced horrified neighbours to flee in panic over fears it would spread.

Mother-of-two Evelyn Lopez, who lives next door but one to the house, said: “As soon as I realised there was a fire I just froze. I was upstairs getting ready for bed when I spotted someone waving at me to get out across the road. All I could think about was my babies. As I looked again I could see smoke and hear the fire brigade.

“I ran into the street in my pyjamas holding my children. The whole thing was a horrible nightmare.

“As I got out in the street my elderly neighbours were being led out of their house by the fire brigade because it looked like the flames were going to spread.

“It made me feel so scared when I heard the fire had been started deliberately.

“For me five years in prison is not long enough for what he did.”

Another neighbour said: “I had been on my way out when I saw the fire.

“I was so shocked to see a fire as big as this on my doorstep, it’s just not something you expect.

“I’m glad Darren has gone to prison he was lucky no one was hurt.”

The seat of the fire was found in the master bedroom, but Preston Crown Court heard that it had quickly spread to another bedroom and the bathroom before engulfing the rest of the house.

Next door neighbours spotted smoke coming from the property and raised the alarm.

Luckily, no one was in the house at the time.

Derbyshire, 41, of Maitland Avenue, Cleveleys, pleaded guilty to a charge of arson, being reckless whether life would be endangered, plus an offence of acting in breach of a restraining order.

The court heard that his partner at the time, Miss Riding, had been granted a restraining order several weeks earlier, against Derbyshire.

However, she continued to have contact with him.

The two were said to have had a tempestuous and difficult relationship and on the morning of blaze, had been drinking together on the beach.

Derbyshire had then visited her home later and had been causing difficulties.

He was then seen walking past a neighbour’s house, carrying away the family dog.

Moments later smoke was spotted coming from the upstairs of the property.

The court heard Derbyshire, who has 68 previous offences, had most likely set fire to the bedding with a naked flame from either a match or a cigarette lighter.

The landlord of the property John Veal, today said he has been left out of pocket for to the tune of more than £50,000 after the insurance failed to pay out.

The 50-year-old said: “I was gob-smacked when the next door neighbour called me up and said my house was on fire. My first thought was are all the kids all right?

“The fire has cost me £50,000. The insurance refused to pay out because the fire was started on purpose.

“It has taken me more than a year to get the house looking even remotely normal.

“I think arsonists should be made to pay back the cost of repairing all the damage they cause.

“I have done all the legal checks but there isn’t much I can do. Darren has no money, so I’ll just have to take the hit.

“Five years is a lengthy stretch but he will probably be out in less than two years.”

The defence said alcoholism was the root cause of the arson and that Derbyshire had battled with drink throughout his adult life.

He was very drunk on the day of the fire and he has little or no recollection as to how it started.

However, the defence said he accepted responsibility and remembered trying to extinguish the fire three to four times with bowls of water.

Judge Simon Newell told Derbyshire: “You should have told the neighbours what had happened. You left the fire to its own devices and went home.

“There was clearly recklessness in respect of the neighbours, but also the fire officers who have to go into a house such as this”.

Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service station manager, Phil Mayers said: “The message this court judgement sends out is that those who commit arson will be found and will face justice.

“We hope that publicising an outcome such as this will send out that message loud and clear as a deterrent to anyone who might contemplate using fire to take life and destroy property.”

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