Woman convicted over tower block blaze deaths
A woman has been convicted of two counts of manslaughter after she started a fire at a block of flats which killed two women.
Sandra Clarke, 50, set off the blaze on the day there was due to be a county court hearing over her rent arrears.
Flames spread through the tower block and claimed the lives of two women in a neighbouring flat.
Ms Clarke, of Marine Tower, Deptford, south-east London, had denied the charges against her, claiming someone else got into her council-owned accommodation and started the fire while she was out.
But jurors did not believe her and she was yesterday (1 May) found guilty at Woolwich Crown Court.
The court heard how Ms Clarke bought two cans of lighter fuel from a shop on 4 February last year before starting two separate fires in her flat - number 61 - on the 16th floor, at the top of the tower block.
Prosecutor Timothy Cray said the flames spread across the whole floor.
Kunaliny Alagaratnam, 42, who was also a council tenant, lived in flat 63 with her husband and two young children. Her family were out but Mrs Alagaratnam and her cousin Santhirapathy Tharmalingam, 59, were overcome by smoke and were later found dead.
Source: Danny Robinson
Mr Cray said examination of the scene showed someone deliberately started fires in the living room and bedroom.
‘Two fires of this kind don’t start by accident,’ he told the court. ‘Someone wanted to set flat 61 alight.’
He told the court Ms Clarke had told police someone else must have come into her flat after she left to buy the lighter fuel.
‘At this time this defendant was living a chaotic life. She was a woman with serious problems in her life,’ the prosecutor added.
‘She rarely slept at flat 61, she told the police she often slept rough on the streets. There was also a background of problems between her and Lewisham Council who owned the flat.’
‘She was in arrears with her rent and there was actually a county court date fixed to deal with the arrears on the flat for the very day the fire was started.’
Mr Cray also said Ms Clarke had a ‘hostile attitude’ to Lewisham Homes, the arm’s-length management organisation that managed her property, accusing it of having spies in the building.
‘This defendant had motivation to hate the way that she was living and in her mind to see this flat and the council as a source of her problems,’ he said.
The two victims, originally from Sri Lanka, called 999 as they were overcome by smoke at around 2.47pm. They were found at about 3.10pm and were pronounced dead at 4.15pm.
The cause of death was found to be inhalation of smoke.
Detective chief inspector Amanda Hargreaves, of Scotland Yard’s homicide and serious crime command, said: ‘I am pleased that Ms Clarke has been convicted today and I hope that she will spend the considerable time she will serve in prison reflecting on how her actions ruined the lives of two families.’
A spokesperson for Lewisham Homes, said: ‘The prosecution’s evidence confirmed that Sandra Clarke’s actions led to the tragic death of two people. And again we extend our deepest sympathy to Mrs Alagaratnam and Mrs Tharmalingam’s family.
‘The safety of all our residents is our top priority. We carry out regular fire safety checks to all our housing and promote fire safety advice to our residents.
‘We were in receipt of an enforcement notice from the London Fire Brigade following the fire at Marine Tower in February and fully complied with the notice by the set deadline.’