York Crown Court has jailed tenant Karl Swales, 47, for 32 months after the court heard that Swales had set fire to his house. This came after Swales had dismantled four fire alarm smoke detectors inside the elegant Victorian townhouse in Byrons Court, Scarborough.
The vengeful tenant is thought to have been high on drink and drugs when he set fire to a pizza box and clothing in his doorway in the fully-occupied apartment house, in an apparent attempt to get back at his landlord who was planning to evict him.
In what was an alarming twist to the so called “retaliatory eviction” or “revenge eviction” scenario, where a landlord evicts a tenant for reporting the need for repairs, in this case the tenant was the one taking revenge. Unfortunately for all involved, his actions put the lives of the other occupants of the property in danger.
Swales set fire to a pizza box and clothing in his doorway as he walked out of the three-storey building in the town’s Trafalgar Square.
Prosecutor Rob Galley said that smoke had drifted down the stairwell and luckily, when the landlord went up to Swales’s attic flat he had found a fire eight inches high next to a pile of clothes, a pizza box and other combustible materials.
The landlord then managed to douse the flames and Swales was later arrested. According to the Scarbourough News, he was hauled in for questioning but when police asked him if he started the fire, his reply was: “Well, I could have done.”
He told the police that he dismantled the smoke detectors because he thought they were cameras filming him, but he admitted a charge of arson and being reckless as to whether life would be endangered, as well as further charge of damaging fire alarms and a carpet.
Appearing for sentence via video link, Swales was jailed by Judge Paul Batty QC for 32 months.
Children were among the tenants living in the building said prosecuting barrister Mr Galley. The fire had been smouldering for about five minutes and was a foot high by the time the landlord reached Swales’s unlocked room on the top floor.
Although the removal of smoke alarms would present a clear risk to life in the event of a major fire, fortunately the fire-detection system and heat sensors were still working, which sounded the alarms.
The landlord had planned to evict Swales after a flat inspection but the court heard that that Swales believed his accommodation was “inadequate”.
Swales told police he had taken prescription drugs and alcohol before the incident and it emerged that he had 21 previous convictions for offences including theft, deception, low-level violence, threatening behaviour and resisting a police officer. He was on a community order for shoplifting at the time of the offence.
Judge Batty QC said the arson appeared to be “some form of payback in respect of what you perceived to be inadequate housing”, and Jailing Swales for two years and eight months, he told him: “Your flat was in a complete mess and it was no surprise that your landlord wanted you evicted.”