A convicted arsonist who started a fire in a tenement which had the “potential to kill” his neighbours has been jailed for four years and ten months.
Jude Cattell, 41, caused the conflagration which took hold in a tenement on Heriot Hill Terrace, Edinburgh, on October 1 2022.
The High Court in the Scottish capital heard that during the inferno, a couple were busy decorating their home when they heard their fire alarm go off.
Prosecutor Eilidh Robertson told judge Lord Scott of the sight which greeted the couple when the man opened the door to his property to see the fire which she said had the potential to kill.
She said: “At about 9.45pm they heard the fire alarm going off in their flat and so he opened the door and saw flames and smoke coming towards him and pieces of wood coming away from the door.
“He shut the door and the fire brigade and police were called.”
The story emerged after Cattell, also of Edinburgh, pleaded guilty to charges of wilful fire raising and threatening and abusive behaviour at a hearing earlier this month.
On Tuesday, Lord Scott made reference in his sentencing remarks to offensive comments Cattell made to his fellow tenement dwellers about their race and sexual orientation. The court heard how he had been drinking before starting the fire.
He told Cattell, who observed proceedings via via video link: “The comments you made at the time put your behaviour in a more disturbing context than the out of control ramblings of a drunken man.
“Only a custodial sentence is appropriate to punish you and to seek to deter others from acting in a similar way and to protect the public from you.”
On the previous occasion, the court heard that Cattell – who works as a cleaner – had one previous conviction for fire raising in 2012.
Ms Robertson told Lord Scott that Cattell lived at 9 Heriot Hill Terrace – which is located in the city’s Canonmills area – at the time of the crime and had spent the evening socialising with a neighbour.
Ms Robertson said that Cattell got into an argument with the man and was asked to leave the house where they had been drinking.
Cattell then started the fire outside the home of the man who he had fallen out with. The court heard that the blaze quickly took hold and the man’s neighbours became aware of it.
Meanwhile, Cattell picked on another female neighbour of “mixed Asian ethnicity” by shouting racial insults at her as she stayed in her home.
Ms Robertson said: “The accused shouted ‘you black b*****d you’re going to get blown up as well.
“She then heard the accused shout ‘Oh my God it’s happened’ followed by the sound of fire crackling. She placed duvets at the base of her door to stop smoke coming in and she too called 999.”
Ms Roberton told Lord Scott that the fire brigade were called and that householders in the tenement were evacuated as firefighters fought to extinguish the blaze.
The advocate depute told the court that Cattell approached the chief firefighter and told him he started the inferno.
She added: “He spoke with the watch commander and told him that he had started the fire saying ‘you can’t save yourself. It’s going to blow.’
“He was acting strangely and barged a shopping trolley against a fire engine.
“He approached a member of the public who noted him to be distressed and heavily intoxicated and told him ‘can you see me because I’m dead already.”
He was then arrested by police who took him away. He uttered offensive remarks to the officers and urinated in the police van.
Meanwhile, the firefighters who extinguished the blaze found evidence which showed that Cattell had started it.
Speaking about the opinions of a Watch Commander Brown, Ms Robertson added: “Watch Commander Brown noted that objects had been pushed up against the door of flat ten and set alight by a person in the corridor.
“The fire damage was extensive. It was noted that there was potential of the fire spreading and that it could have led to loss of life.
“Watch Commander Brown was of the opinion that the fire had a potential to kill.”
The court heard that the total damage caused by the blaze amounted to £28,000.
At the previous hearing, defence advocate David Nicolson lodged a psychiatric report with the court detailing Cattell’s mental health.
On Tuesday, Mr Nicolson told Lord Scott that his client’s problems stemmed from alcohol use.
He added: “The report does not consider him to have any difficulty with pyromania.
“In my submission his problems stem from the use of alcohol.
“It is his use of alcohol which leads to his involvement with the criminal justice system.”
Lord Scott told Cattell that if he hadn’t pleaded guilty, he would have received a longer prison sentence for his crimes.
He added: “You have been well advised to tender an early plea.”
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