Fears over the bedroom tax led a Middlesbrough grandmother to commit arson in her own home, a court heard today.
Margaret Rae, 62, set fire to a cloth by placing it over a candle that was burning in her bookcase in the Pallister Park home where she has lived for 58 years.
When the fire took hold, causing £850 worth of damage in the living room, she got frightened and went into the garden, the court heard.
A neighbour raised the alarm and Rae admitted starting the fire at her childhood family home in Delarden Road, where she had taken over the Erimus Housing tenancy from her parents.
Teesside Crown Court heard Rae, who has no previous convictions, had been drinking in the home on the afternoon of April 5, before setting the fire.
When interviewed, Rae was said to be “distressed” and “angry about the bedroom tax,” prosecutor Jenny Haigh told the court.
The so-called bedroom tax – the Government’s spare room subsidy – was going to cost her an extra £30 a week for the three-bedroom home and she feared she may have to leave as she couldn’t afford it.
Ms Haigh told the court this was “playing on her mind” when she started the fire.
Rae, who the court heard has a history of depression, said she didn’t think the other houses, attached to the end terrace property in a block of six, could be affected, but admitted arson being reckless as to whether life would be endangered.
She said she had only meant to set the cloth alight but the bookcase took light and she got frightened.
The fire was quickly brought under control by firefighters and no neighbouring houses were affected.
Robert Mochrie, defending, began his address by telling his honour Judge John Walford that the Government had been “relentless in the austerity measures” in recent years.
But the judge interrupted saying the courtroom was “not a political platform” adding: “It is clear from the psychiatric report that whatever political persuasions you may have, this can’t be laid at the door of the Government or its proposals.”
> Because they only introduced the bedroom tax. Nothing to do with them, guv. The judge has spoken.
Sentencing her to 18 months in prison, suspended for two years, with a supervision requirement, alcohol treatment programme and £100 costs, Judge Walford said he was confident she would not do it again and praised her for clearing up the mess and paying for redecoration.
He added it “spoke volumes” about her that her neighbours had forgiven her and Erimus Housing had not decided to evict her.
“They obviously recognise the feeling you have for that home and why it’s important for you to remain there,” he said.
“It also convinces me that they feel the same way as I do, that you’re not going to do this again.”
Source – Middlesbrough Evening Gazette, 22 Oct 2014
A Labour councillor has been suspended after she joined protesters opposing council cuts.
Councillor Rosalind Copeland (Southwick) was hit with a three-month suspension by Sunderland’s Labour Group for going against the orders of party whips.
The ban means she will not be able to take part in the group’s meetings or sit with Labour members at full council meetings.
Members voted to take action against Coun Copeland at a party meeting on Monday.
It appears the row was ignited after the grandmother-of-two joined placard-carrying protestors in the city centre, ahead of an annual budget-setting meeting last month.
A group from North East People’s Assembly met to lobby councillors before the meeting, during which £35million of cuts for 2014/15 were given the green light.
Carrying placards in the shape of coffin lids to signify each public service they said will suffer because of the cuts, the group handed out leaflets.
Coun Copeland attended the lobby in Park Lane before the meeting and supported the demonstrators.
Pointing out that she was not there to criticise the council, but to defend what it is legally bound to do in the face of Government cuts, she said: “I am here to defend my council and the decision my council will have to make – the agony we are facing as councillors.
“As council members, we are having to do things we don’t want to do. The Coalition is pilfering the working class. It is not this Labour group at fault.”
Supporters have given their backing to the 65-year-old, who was elected in May 2008.
Anti-cuts protestor Gary Duncan set up the online petition and a Facebook page calling for the suspension to be lifted.
He said: “As a Sunderland resident and Labour voter who actively opposes cuts to public services, I am absolutely disgusted by this suspension.
“How can the leaders of Sunderland’s Labour Party justify punishing one of their own councillors for fighting the cuts?”
> Labour voter ? So he’s not the same Gary Duncan who, if I remember correctly, stood as a Respect candidate then ?
Though he probably is the Gary Duncan who last year got into bother with Sunderland Peoples Assembly (presumably a different entity from North East People’s Assembly)
A Labour Party insider, who did not want to be named, said: “Coun Copeland signed a letter in 2011 to say she would not talk to the press, unless it was ‘on message’.
“But if you started slinging people out of the Labour Party for opposing Tory cuts, there would be nobody left. She is a good local councillor.”
A spokesman for Labour Party North confirmed Coun Copeland had been suspended from the Labour Group for three months for going against the party whip.
Council leader Paul Watson said: “There is an internal Labour Group enquiry live at the present moment. It is against party rules to discuss the situation until we have an outcome and the process is fully concluded.”
Source – Sunderland Echo 12 April 2014