Pregnant teen will give birth behind bars after setting house on fire

A pregnant teenager is to give birth in prison after mistakenly torching an innocent family’s home in a row over a boyfriend.

Hannah Wilkinson, 19, threw a flaming rag doused in barbecue lighter fluid through the cat flap of a house, wrongly thinking her friend’s rival lived there.

Nearly three later, the fire-starter has been sent to a young offenders institute for 12 months, where she she expects to welcome her baby boy into the world in November.

Before she was sentenced Wilkinson’s grandmother begged Recorder Christopher Hudson to be lenient in a handwritten letter read out in Preston Crown Court.

Prosecutor Jeff Troup said that in December 2017, Wilkinson, from Burnley, Lancashire, became involved in an argument surrounding her friend Demi-Leigh Astin’s boyfriend.

The pair went to the home of a third girl named Aleesha Jenkins in Padiham, near Burnley, Lancashire and smashed the front windows.

They then made their way to the back of the row of terraced houses and into the garden of the home they believed belonged to Ms Jenkins and her mother.

However, they ended up outside the wrong house, instead climbing over the fence into the garden of neighbour Shane Glover.

Police were called shortly afterwards but it was too late to stop the house being set ablaze.

Mr Troup said: ‘Mr Glover, looking out of the window, saw the girls climbing the fence to get out of his garden. He ran outside to tell police and saw them walking by the side of his house.

‘As he saw them, he smelt burning and ran back inside the house to find a burning rag had been pushed through the cat flap at the back door. He said there were big flames but fortunately he was able to put out the fire with his hand.

‘The police, when they attended, said that they could smell accelerant in the house and seized a bottle of barbecue lighter fluid from the garden. The accelerant was used by Miss Wilkinson to start the fire.’

The pair were arrested at the scene. Wilkinson has admitted arson while being reckless as to whether life is endangered and criminal damage.

Victim personal statements read to the court heard how Mr Glover had been left traumatised by the incident and would often think about what would have happened to his wife and children if the fire hadn’t been discovered so quickly.

Mr Troup added that since the offence, Wilkinson had been in trouble with the police for several other reasons, including assault, shoplifting and possession of crack cocaine.

Defending Wilkinson, Laura Barbour said her client was aware she must now ‘pay the consequences’ of her actions.

She said: ‘It may not be very apparent from seeing the defendant in the dock, because she is very slight, but she is 34 weeks pregnant. The baby, a boy, is due at the start of November.

‘If this lady is sent into custody today, she will deliver her baby in prison. That places enormous strain on public health services.

‘It also places upon this lady a burden which in my respectful submission, is very significant. She would be required to deliver the baby in handcuffs to use an expression.

‘There is then the very difficult decision to be made as to if that baby should be with its mother or if the two should be separated. That would be a cruel blow that would outweigh the true deservedness of the punishment.’

Ms Barbour told the court the defendant had struggled with a tough upbringing, started using crack cocaine and alcohol at as a teenager and had been involved with men as much as 20 years older than her.

She added: ‘Her grandmother, who sits in the public gallery today, is a positive influence and has relatively recently come back into her life.’

Ms Barbour said she has been assessed by social services and would be able to care for the baby while his mum is in prison.

She added: ‘Miss Wilkinson recognises by virtue of her own criminality that is jeopardised. She knows that this case merits a long custodial sentence.

‘She recognises that innocent children could have died. But she is about to be a mother and for the first time perhaps is experiencing feelings of real maturity.

‘These matters have been hanging over her for almost three years. The crime took place in December 2017 and she was not charged until September 2019.’

Sentencing Wilkinson to 12 months in a detention centre, Recorder Hudson said: ‘I have to balance your subjective interests against the interest of society as a whole.

‘These were very serious offences; you don’t need me to tell you that. The essence of the gravity of it is, that fire cannot be switched on and off.

‘Once it has started you cannot change your mind. Once it is started it has a life and a mind of its own.

‘That is especially so in this case and although you may not have known it, but eventually you ended up setting a fire at the back of a house with a family inside. People are entitled to feel safe in their own home.

‘Ironically, this problem was nothing to do with you, as I understand it. It was Miss Astin who decided she wanted to do something about the situation – you were recruited.

‘This was a two-part incident. The house of your intended victim was attacked from the front. This was disgraceful behaviour.

‘If it had stopped there it would have been a different matter, but the trouble is you went on at that stage and you took a number of deliberate and conscious actions.

‘Ironically you ended up at the wrong property. A search was made, you found the lighter fluid, it was applied to a rag and a light was put to it.”

He concluded: ‘I’m sorry to have to tell you that I can only deal with you, and my public duty drives me deal with you, by way of an immediate custodial sentence.’

A warrant has been issued for the arrest of Demi-Leigh Astin, who failed to appear on Monday to be sentenced alongside Wilkinson.

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