82-year-old woman sentenced for attempted arson

|News, Violent crime

An 82-year-old woman has been sentenced after she tried to start a fire in her bungalow in Cheshire.

The Crown Prosecution Service said Maureen Walsh tried to start a fire in the kitchen of her semi-detached bungalow in Ellesmere Port on 27 November 2018.

She placed packets of food on each of the four hob rings on her electric cooker and turned them all on. She stuffed a towel into the plug-hole of the kitchen sink and turned the tap on so the sink began to fill with water.

She left the power cable for the kettle plugged into an electric wall socket which was switched on and had the other end of the power cable trailing into the water-filled sink.

Ms Walsh was remanded in custody to Styal prison in February, where prison staff cared for her as her health began to fail significantly. She was found not fit to plead or stand trial.

At a finding of fact hearing in July, a jury at Chester Crown Court agreed that Ms Walsh had attempted to commit arson.

At Chester Crown Court on 19 November 2019, the Recorder of Chester, HHJ Steven Everett, said that, in the light of all the circumstances, a Conditional Discharge for 12 months was the only appropriate sentence.

Peter Hussey, of CPS Mersey Cheshire, said: “This has been a complicated and sad case.

“Ms Walsh’s social conditions and health needs meant she had carers visiting her daily. Her behaviour was challenging and the carers visited in pairs as she often became abusive and aggressive. She’d received a short prison sentence in February 2019 for other, less serious offences than this arson charge.

“On 27 November 2018, Maureen was on her own in the house and the attempted arson could only have been carried out by her. If it hadn’t been for the timely arrival of her carers, the fire would have developed, putting Maureen’s life at risk, that of her elderly neighbour, and also any firefighters who attended.

“She initially tried to blame the carers for the fire but also admitted that she’d ‘done it on purpose’. Medical reports were carried out on Ms Walsh when she was in custody on remand and it was determined that she was not fit to stand trial.

“The special verdict by the jury meant that meant that only three types of sentence were available to the Court  - a hospital order, a supervision order, or a conditional discharge. As her mental ill-health was not treatable, and her residence was uncertain, the sentencing options for the Court were very limited. This is a sad case but the offending was potentially very serious.”

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