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Flats arsonsist who ‘wanted to die’ is jailed

By Evan Short

A man with 65 previous convictions who set fire to his 16th floor flat on the New Lodge Road three years ago was jailed in Belfast Crown Court last Friday (April 11) after pleading guilty to arson.

The court heard that James Dixon, 50, of Kinnaird Close, Belfast, set fire to his flat in Grainne House in the early hours of January 9, 2011, after consuming a quantity of alcohol.

Dixon, who was said in court to suffer from alcohol dependency and significant mental health issues, was said to have covered a chair in methylated spirits before setting it on fire.

Neighbours on his floor were forced to go onto their balconies as the fire caught hold, with one neighbour who didn’t have a balcony, described as being “terrified” when the smoke started coming into his flat.

During the trial, the court heard Dixon’s 999 call where he told the operator that he didn’t want to leave his flat as he “wanted to die”.

The defence barrister said he was “breathing in smoke and wanted to end his life”. After being rescued he was taken to the Mater Hospital and treated for smoke inhalation.

When interviewed by the PSNI, Dixon denied he had tried to take his own life and told the officers that he had been wiping down skirting boards with white spirit when a cigarette had ignited the liquid.

The court heard this was ruled out in a forensic investigation.

When confronted with the tape of his 999 call, where he admitted to trying to take his own life, Mr Dixon told police that he was “drunk” and that what he had said was “stupid talk”.

Mr Dixon’s defence barrister said his client suffered from serious mental health problems and was also an insulin dependent diabetic, which would make serving a jail sentence difficult.

He said there was “no other motivation” on the night to harm anyone else, and that any community order he had ever been placed on had been “successfully completed”.

Belfast Recorder Judge David McFarlane said that he didn’t accept Mr Dixon was trying to take his own life that night.

“(It’s) clear you were suffering from some degree of mental upset and also going through the break up of a relationship, but certainly you weren’t suicidal, that is clear.

“It was perhaps a cry for help and that is evidenced by the 999 call after the fire had been set and started.”

He said he would be imposing a custodial sentence.

“I don’t believe this is a case where I can just impose a probation order.

“Certainly there is some thrust in what he (defence barrister) says about your need for help, but help can equally be got by virtue of licence conditions and if you breach those license there is a deterrent there.”

Judge McFarlane sentenced Dixon to three months in custody, with 12 months to be served on license on release.


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