Tayside and Central Scotland

Fire-raiser who torched Dundee flats facing long sentence

Fire in Dundee Image copyright Dave Pellow
Image caption The fire completely gutted the flats on Garland Place

A fire-raiser is facing a lengthy prison term for burning down a block of flats in Dundee.

A firefighter was injured falling through a set of stairs while battling the blaze that Brian Martin started on Garland Place.

Residents were put "in mortal danger" by the huge fire in April 2012.

Martin's case has been referred to the High Court after it was judged his sentence should be greater than the five years possible in a Sheriff Court.

The fire completely gutted the four-storey block, which remains in ruins, with the cost of damage estimated at several hundred thousand pounds.

A four-day jury trial at Dundee Sheriff Court heard that 15 people had to be rescued from the blaze, which destroyed the top floor and roof of the building.

Martin had been sleeping rough in the close of the building after being thrown out of the flat of resident Alastair Smith, after he was accused of stealing a pair of shoes.

Image copyright Police Scotland
Image caption Brian Martin has been remanded in custody

'Malicious ignition'

Shortly before 22:00 on 25 April, 2012, Martin was told to leave the Salvation Army hostel on Ward Road after he was caught drinking with fellow resident Kimberly Whyte in his room.

He claimed he had been in a car park drinking at the time the blaze started, but Miss Whyte said the pair had walked straight to the junction of Garland Place and Constitution Street before going in opposite directions.

Martin later approached PC Lindsay Martin outside the Garland Place block around 10 minutes after fire crews arrived at 22:30 looking "tearful" and saying he was concerned for Mr Smith's welfare.

The trial heard that Martin had given a false name to the officer and appeared to be under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

A fire incident report said the blaze had been started by "malicious ignition", possibly by an accelerant being poured on the floor or squirted into a cupboard.

Terrified residents, including Alan Thomson, whose dog perished in the fire, had to be rescued from upper floors.

The trial also heard from firefighter James Ingram, who plunged through a set of stairs into the basement after they gave way under his feet as he attempted to tackle the fire.

'Virtual destruction'

Martin, 30, a prisoner at HMP Perth, was found guilty by a jury of wilfully starting the fire in April 2012.

Ross Donnelly, defending, said: "He maintains his position of innocence.

"However, he can appreciate the impact this fire will have had on the residents.

"He realises the seriousness of the offences that he has been convicted of."

Sheriff George Way remanded Martin in custody while referring the case up to the High Court.

He said: "This is as serious an offence as comes before this court.

"The fire resulted in the virtual destruction of that tenement block.

"A firefighter was injured risking his life to save the inhabitants of the block.

"This court heard of the real and present danger to the lives of the inhabitants. If one of them had gone back for his dog, who died, he would assuredly have put his life in real risk.

"This was the kind of fire where people only didn't die through chance and the bravery of the rescue personnel.

"There's no doubt whatsoever that the sentence that this crime merits is far beyond my powers."

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