A ‘suicidal’ woman caused a nightclub to be evacuated after trying to set herself on fire, a court heard.
Donna Hamilton, of Stacksteads, sneaked past bouncers outside Club HQ on Warner Street in Accrington while she was ‘very drunk’, the hearing was told.
Prosecutor Stephen Parker said the defendant was smoking cigarettes when she set fire to the upholstered chair on a landing outside the defunct Attic nightclub, which is also housed in the building, because she didn’t want to live any more’.
Burnley Crown Court heard her son had committed suicide the previous year and she had been ‘struggling to cope ever since’.
Around 25 people were forced to evacuate the building shortly before 3am on September 15 last year and fire bosses said there was the potential for a very serious fire’.
Mr Parker told the court that Hamilton, 43, had been drinking ‘extra strength Tennent’s lager’ with her long-term partner before coming into Accrington.
She was initially refused entry to Club HQ but ‘managed to sneak passed the bouncers’ and went upstairs, the court heard.
Staff were alerted to the fire and tried to tackle the blaze but were hampered by ‘very thick smoke’.
After starting the blaze, Hamilton approached a woman on the street and ‘started being aggressive to her’.
The court heard that the defendant was described as ‘very drunk, slurring her words and struggling to walk’ and told the woman to ‘watch out and see it go up on flames’.
When Hamilton was arrested by police said: “I only went up for a fag. I only flicked a cigarette on some chairs and then left. The door staff should have done their job and not let people up.”
Mr Parker said during a subsequent police interview, Hamilton told officers that she set fire to the chair she was sat on ‘because she didn’t want to live any more’ and her ‘main intention was to kill herself’. The court heard that she had ‘reacted badly’ to mixing alcohol and her medication and ‘never considered the risk posed to other members of the public’.
The fire damaged the chair and caused smoke damage to the nightclub which cost £1,600 to repair.
Hamilton, of Brandwood Road, Stacksteads, pleaded guilty to arson being reckless as to whether life was endangered. She was given a two-year jail sentence, suspended for two years.
Defence barrister Rachel Cooper said Donna Hamilton is afraid of fire and ‘confused and mystified as to why she acted in the way she did’.
The court heard that the defendant also ‘expresses remorse and her very deep-seated relief that nobody was hurt’.
Miss Cooper said: “Alcohol has been a big problem for her. The very sudden loss of her son led to a downward spiral in her behaviour.
“When she suffers from emotional problems she often retreats to alcohol which leads to very negative consequences.
“She wants a quiet, normal and ordinary life with her partner and parents.
“This has been a shock to her and a salutary lesson.
“She is very motivated to receive support from the probation service. She wants to get her life back.”
Judge Jonathan Gibson said there was a ‘very clear potential for serious fire’ and a ‘clear risk of serious harm’. However he told the court that ‘public protection is better served’ by Hamilton receiving help in the community.
He ordered the defendant to return to court on May 11 to review her abstinence from alcohol and compliance with the suspended sentence order.