Mum who set fire to her own house to escape infestation of mice avoids jail

A mum who admitted setting fire to her rented house after complaining of a mice infestation has avoided jail.

Shanique Worrel, 29, admitted starting blaze in her bedroom on October 27, 2019, in an act of “misguided desperation” to get a new home.

Worrel’s actions caused £15,050 damage to the rented social housing property Moss Side, Manchester, after alleging the two storey building was dirty and had high utlility bills.

After setting fire to her double bed she went out with her young son to a local recycling centre and walked round the block before returning to calmly call the fire brigade.

Frantic neighbours in Rusholme, Manchester kicked down a door and smashed windows of the house in the belief someone was inside only to see “unconcerned” Worrel loitering on the pavement.

The blaze gutted her bedroom at the house.

Bryan Berlyne, prosecuting, said: “The firefighters turned on their breathing apparatuses and found the fire started on a double bed. The fire was growing in significance but was extinguished. There was damage to the first-floor bedroom and fire damage to the bed, and it also caused damage to the ceiling.

“There was smoke damage to the walls and ceiling. The estimated cost of repairing the damage was £15,050. The double bed in the front bedroom was the site of the start of the burn. The fire was caused deliberately, probably from a lighter to the bed linen. The fire had been set between five and 30 minutes before it was discovered.”

The following November Worrel was quizzed by police about the fire and was said to appear “nervous” and was not able to answer questions about when she left the property.

She falsely told a detective her back door was unsecure when she left but officers studied CCTV which showed that she walked to her local recycle bin 82 metres away, then returned by walking “around the block.”

Mr Berlyne added: “She said she didn’t start the fire. She said she left her house at lunch to take her son’s clothes to a recycling bin, then realized she had lost her house keys and went back.”

Manchester Crown Court was told she had initially complained about the mice on August 29, before then complaining about the cost of bills on October 10.

She met with the service manager and told him that she wanted to move out but did not get her wish. She then set the fire just 10 days later.

Worrel admitted arson but walked free with 22 months imprisonment, suspended for two years.

She has since returned to the home after repairs were carried out on her behalf. She has not been ordered to pay any compensation.

She must also complete 35 rehabilitation activity requirement days.

Worrel had no previous convictions. Her lawyer Miss Gwen Henshaw said in mitigation: “Miss Worrel feels deep shame about her actions. She is deeply ashamed about what she has done. But while £15,050 worth of damage is not insignificant, it was confined to a single room. It was largely to a bed and the damage hasn’t been irreversible or irreplaceable. The defendant is now living back in the property.

“This was an aberration, brought about by misguided desperation. Your honour must consider how much this defendant’s learning disability might have contributed to her offending. TThe psychological report provides some assistance. It says her responsibility for the offence is substantially reduced by her learning disability – her lack of ability to apply consequently thinking.”

Sentencing, the judge accepted that her mental health difficulties and other problems affected her behaviour.

“Because of your learning disabilities you didn’t understand quite how serious and quite how dangerous it was to set this fire,” said Recorder Alex Leach QC.