Crawley House Fire Trial

A South African man was jailed for life today after being found guilty of murdering a six-year-old girl by setting fire to her family's home.

A judge said ``wicked and jealous'' George Sithole, 41, would serve a minimum of 17 years behind bars for killing Dumo Sibanda.

He started the blaze which killed Dumo after being upset that his relationship with a friend of her family had ended.

In the hours and weeks before the fire, he accused Siphenphile Mercy Mlalazi, known as Mercy, of cheating on him and bombarded her with calls and text messages.

After buying petrol and matches, he went straight to the semi-detached house in Banks Road, Pound Hill, Crawley, West Sussex, where Ms Mlalazi was staying with Dumo's family.

Within minutes flames engulfed the house, forcing Ms Mlalazi and her friend Donald Sibanda to jump out of their separate bedroom windows at the front.

But Mr Sibanda's daughter, Dumo, whose bedroom was at the back of the property, died despite efforts by paramedics to resuscitate her.

Sithole denied starting the fire but jurors convicted him of murder today after more than two hours of deliberation at Lewes Crown Court.

Sentencing him, Judge Richard Brown described Sithole's account of events as ``appalling nonsense'' as he paid tribute to Dumo's family for their dignity throughout the trial.

The judge told Sithole: ``I don't think I have ever heard such a pathetic attempt by a defendant to lie their way out of responsibility.

``Your wicked, jealous and criminal behaviour in 2004 cost little Dumo her life and has destroyed the lives of her parents and her family.

``You have shown absolutely no remorse for your actions. I have no doubt that when you bought the petrol and matches your plan was to kill Mercy and you knew that you were putting other lives at risk.''

Dumo's parents said Sithole's lack of remorse or account for his actions were a ``further insult'' to them.

In a statement issued through Sussex Police after sentencing, they said: ``George Sithole was selfish enough not to deal with the consequences of his actions at the time.

``He refused to come forward when he knew he was sought for questioning.

``He also resisted the extradition process, which led to the extra delay in his coming to the UK for the trial to take place and allow us some closure.

``He has not once shown any contrition or remorse for his actions, and the fact that he continues to deny the offence is a further insult to us.

``However, we have maintained throughout our confidence in the police and the judicial system to bring this matter to a conclusion and to obtain a measure of justice for Dumo even after all this time.

``We give special thanks to the Sussex Police and the South African Police for following this matter to its conclusion and obtaining a measure of justice for Dumo.

``We do also thank the British and South African news media who have helped the course of justice by keeping Dumo's murder in the public eye over all these years.''

Detective Chief Inspector Nick May, of Sussex Police, said; ``We spent seven years hard work in solving this terrible crime, bringing Sithole back to the UK, and achieving justice for Dumo.

``We also pay tribute to Sindi and Donald Sibanda for the fortitude and dignity they have showed ever since the tragic death of their daughter, and for their determination to help seek the truth.''

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