Woman Jailed For 12 Years for MK Arson

14 March 2011, 16:20

A wheelchair-bound woman has been convicted of starting a fire that killed a mother and her 3-year-old daughter.

Scorned Barbara Zhanje, 48, set light to her former boyfriend's belongings in a room in a multi-occupancy house while he was away visiting his new girlfriend.

The blaze ripped through the first and second floors of the house at 200 Fishermead Boulevard, Milton Keynes in the early hours of September 5 last year.

Innocent victims Bola Ejifunmilayo, 29, and her daughter Fiyin, 3, were trapped and died from smoke inhalation.

The young mother from Nigeria, who had lived there with her daughter for less than a month in the second floor room, had made a distressing 999 call saying they were finding it difficult to breath.

Their bodies were not found until the following day because fire fighters wrongly believed all the seven people who lived at the house were accounted for.

Fire investigators spent six hours at the scene the next day, but were unaware of the bodies in the room. They had been told the room was unsafe to enter and had used a ladder on a balcony to look inside and had not seen them.

Zhanje, 48, of Mill Road, Kettering, Northants pleaded not guilty to two counts manslaughter and one of arson being reckless as to whether anyone's life would be endangered. She was convicted of all charges by the jury of 9 women and 3 men at St Albans crown court by a majority of 10 to 2.

Zimbabwe-born Zhanje came to the UK 9 years ago and had worked with children with learning difficulties. In March last year she was involved in a road accident in which she broke her pelvis, femur and elbow and was left wheelchair bound.

Last September she was angry when, despite numerous attempts, she could not contact her former boyfriend Ananias Jumbe, who was with his new girlfriend in Leeds. She persuaded a friend to drive her from her home in Sykes Court, Corby to his address in Milton Keynes. Zhanje told him Jumbe "had been taking advantage of her."

When he was not in she went to a friend's house in Bossiney Place, Milton Keynes where she drank half a bottle of wine before persuading her to push her back around to Jumbe's home.

At a quarter past 12 a resident was woken by banging noises coming from Jumbe's front door. She found Zhanje in tears banging on the door. Zhanje told her:'I just want to break the door and get my things because he's my partner and we have been together a long time and he's cheating on me.'

Then at a quarter to two in the morning one of the other people in the house was woken by the smell of smoke and saw flames coming up the stairs from the first floor where Jumbe lived. She dialled 999. A resident on the ground floor got out after hearing someone shout fire.

Prosecutor Ann Evans said fire fighters were at the scene in 10 minutes and the resident from the other second floor room, Muni Elmi, was taken to safety by ladders.

Mrs Evans said: "Officers then entered the address with the assistance of breathing apparatus to try and search the second floor as they believed there was a woman and child unaccounted for. The first crew was beaten back by the flames, but a second team did manage to get upstairs only to have the landing collapse, one of the officers falling through the floor and injuring himself in the process. This second crew were unable to thoroughly search the back room where Bola and her daughter lay and at 2.46am the team retreated. As there was conflicting evidence about the whereabouts of all the occupants of the property. Erroneously they reached the conclusion that the property was now empty and at 4.24am the Fire Service log records the message 'all persons accounted for. Although it is right that the fire had been brought under control, the bodies of Bola and her daughter were not found on that day."

Forensic evidence matched glass from Jumbe's door to glass fragments found on Zhanje's clothes.

Defence barrister Niall Quinn QC said Zhanje had been "self-absorbed" that night."

Jailing Zhanje for 12 years, Judge Stephen Gullick told her: "It is clear you were determined to find out what he was up to.  When you failed. You decided to teach him a lesson. It was a spiteful act. You caused two innocent people, one a three year old child, to lose their lives. You took no steps to alert anyone to what you had done.  This is not a case where you have expressed remorse."