Prestatyn Fire - Woman Guilty of Deaths

30 April 2013, 17:14 | Updated: 21 May 2013, 14:24

A "drunk and jealous'' woman has been found guilty of murdering five members of the same family, including three young children, in a devastating fire in Prestatyn following a row about a pram.

43 year old Melanie Smith deliberately set fire to a pushchair because she was angry that it had been left in a shared hallway, Mold Crown Court heard. 

The court was told she carried out the "terrible and wicked deed'' because she was "drunk and angry'', disillusioned with her boyfriend, very unhappy in her flat and jealous of the woman who lived upstairs. 

Lee-Anna Shiers, 20, her four-year-old nephew, Bailey, and two-year-old niece, Skye, died in the arson attack at their home in Maes-yGroes on October 19 last year. 

Firefighters managed to rescue Ms Shiers's 15-month-old son Charlie and his father Liam Timbrell, 23, from the first-floor flat but they died in hospital. 

Smith, who lived in the flat below the victims, Prestatyn, was found guilty of all five counts of murder by a jury of seven women and five men today. 

Smith appeared to collapse into the security guard on her right as the first of the 10 to two majority verdicts was returned after almost 15 hours of deliberations by the jury. 

As the remaining guilty verdicts were announced by the jury foreman, she bowed her head and looked to the floor. In addition to five counts of murder, she was also convicted of one count of making threats of arson. 

In the public gallery on a balcony above the courtroom there was a short outburst of "No'', seemingly from a member of Smith's family. 

Relatives of the victims were then heard to be crying as others shouted: "Yes.'' 

Trial judge Mr Justice Griffith Williams told the court he wanted "time to reflect'' before passing sentence. 

He told Smith her life sentence was fixed by law, but she would be brought back to the court on May 8 when she will be told the minimum term. 

The defendant clung on to the arm of a security guard as she was led down to the cells and appeared to have difficulty walking. 

During the three-week trial, the jury heard that Smith, an alcoholic mother-of-five, has been increasingly angry with Ms Shiers, accusing the young mother of being a noisy and untidy neighbour. 

Smith was also heard complaining to others about Ms Shiers leaving the pram in the hallway and leaving cigarette ends around the front door area. 

Ian Murphy QC, for the prosecution, told the jury that on the night of the fire, Smith was drunk and started the blaze "in a rage'' after hearing Ms Shiers and Mr Timbrell having sex upstairs. 

The court was played a harrowing 999 call in which Mr Timbrell shouted: "Oh my God, oh my God, we're going to die.'' 

The jury was told that Mr Timbrell later told rescuing paramedics that "it was arson'' and "it was Mel from downstairs'' after he said he heard her shouting through the letterbox that she was going to burn the house down. 

Mr Murphy said Smith had a "propensity'' to threaten people by saying she would burn their houses down "with their children inside''.

The court heard that Smith made a string of similar threats to Ms Shiers in the weeks before the fire. 

She also threatened to "fire bomb'' her landlord's home and burn down the house of Samantha Schofield, whom she accused of having an affair with her boyfriend Steven Clarkson. 

Smith, who claimed in court that she once had counselling for being obsessively tidy, denied the allegations and said 21 of the prosecution witnesses, including a firefighter and a police officer, were lying and plotting against her. 

She said only a "sick and evil person'' would threaten to start fires in houses with children inside.