Sussex

George Sithole 'started fatal fire deliberately'

Dumo Sibanda
Image caption Dumo Sibanda died despite attempts to resuscitate her

A fire which killed a six-year-old girl was started by a man upset over the end of a relationship with a woman staying in the house, a court has been told.

George Sithole, 41, is alleged to have set fire to the house in Crawley, West Sussex, in the early hours of 26 October 2006, Lewes Crown Court heard.

Dumo Sibanda, whose bedroom was at the back, died despite paramedics' attempts to resuscitate her.

Mr Sithole, of no fixed address, denies murder and two counts of arson.

He is charged with arson with intent to endanger life and arson being reckless as to whether life was endangered.

The jury was told Siphenphile Mercy Mlalazi, known as Mercy, was staying in the house in Banks Road, Pound Hill, at the time of the fire.

She and Dumo's father, her friend Donald Sibanda, escaped by jumping out of their respective bedroom windows at the front of the semi-detached house.

'Bought matches'

Mr Sithole, who had been bombarding Ms Mlalazi with calls and text messages for weeks, had accused her of having an affair with another man hours beforehand.

Prosecutor Alexandra Healy said CCTV footage showed Mr Sithole buying 1.8 litres of petrol from a Tesco garage in the early hours of 26 October.

Image caption The fire took hold at the Banks Road house within minutes, the court heard

Firefighters were called to the house 26 minutes later.

"The prosecution says that the defendant must have gone straight from the petrol station to 23 Banks Road to set the fire, which had taken severe hold within a matter of minutes," she said.

Ms Healy said Mr Sithole had also bought a box of matches from the Tesco supermarket, where he worked as a cleaner.

Jurors were told the 41-year-old fled the UK on 29 October to return to his native South Africa.

He was extradited on 16 March this year.

The court heard Ms Mlalazi and Mr Sithole were in a relationship for some months but he became "jealous and possessive" after Ms Mlalazi began a new relationship with a married man.

On the evening of 25 October Ms Mlalazi was looking after Dumo because her mother Sindisine Sibanda, known as Sindi, was in Newcastle training to be a nurse.

When the child went to her bedroom her door was wedged open as she was afraid of being alone with it closed.

Ms Healy said fire investigation officers found the fire had been deliberately set in the living room, below Dumo's bedroom.

Jurors were told it was likely Dumo would have been overcome by the smoke more quickly than the others because her bedroom door was open.

Ms Healy said after the fire had started, Mr Sibanda had rushed into Dumo's room but could not find her because of the smoke.

He went back to his bedroom and jumped out, thinking he would then try to rescue his daughter from outside by climbing up to her window.

Neighbours brought a ladder but the fire was too fierce to be able to put it against the wall.

Firefighters found Dumo unconscious on the floor next to her bed, the court heard.

She was pronounced dead at East Surrey Hospital where a post-mortem examination found she died of shock, burns and inhalation of fumes.

The trial continues.

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