Sussex

Man pleads guilty to Eastbourne house fire murders

The scene of the fire
Image caption Sally-Ann Baxter-Smith and her daughter Lois died in hospital

A 37-year-old man has admitted murdering a woman and her teenage daughter who died in hospital after a house fire in East Sussex.

Anthony Scrase, of no fixed address, pleaded guilty in a hearing at Lewes Crown Court.

Sally-Ann Baxter Smith, 38, and 14-year-old Lois died from smoke inhalation after the fire in their mid-terrace house in Eastbourne, in 2003.

Two other children, a boy and a girl, escaped from an upstairs window.

Neither of of them suffered serious injury during the incident in Beach Road.

Scrase is due to be sentenced at a date still to be set.

Scrase admitted the charges during a plea and case management hearing, and details were not opened by prosecutor Richard Barton.

The court heard Scrase was already serving an indeterminate sentence.

On the night of the blaze, Ms Baxter Smith, Lois and another daughter Rhiannon had dinner at their home with family friend Cheryl Seppings and her son Jay.

'Evil and dangerous man'

Later Ms Seppings went home, but let Jay stay the night because he had fallen asleep on the sofa.

In the early hours, they were woken by thick black smoke and flames in the two-storey house.

Jay and Rhiannon managed to escape, but Ms Baxter Smith and Lois were found on a bed with their arms wrapped around each other.

After the hearing, Ms Baxter Smith's daughter Chelsea said: "We have waited until today to find out the truth about their deaths.

"With Anthony Scrase's plea of guilty to their murders we now know the truth.

"We hope that the sentence handed down to this evil and dangerous man will ensure that he will no longer be a danger to the public."

Outside court, Det Ch Insp Trevor Bowles said Scrase was a violent man with a lengthy history of offending.

When he was arrested, he was already serving an indeterminate sentence for assaulting two police officers in Eastbourne in 2006.

Mr Bowles said he tried to strangle a female officer during the incident.

He said Scrase, who was brought up in south London, had lived next door but one to the victims and was known to them but was not a family friend.

He said: "The motive has always been questionable. However, jealousy, rage and a violent temper feature in the case.

"What we now know is that he will never again be able to create another victim."

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