A court heard yesterday how one of the children - a four-month-old baby - was rescued by a neighbour who dashed to help after being alerted to the blaze which also left the family’s pet dog suffering burns.
Details of what happened were revealed at Hove Crown Court when Richard Rowe, 31, an agricultural salesman of Blackgate Lane, Pulborough, was jailed for six and a half years after being told ‘lives have been ruined.’
The court heard that Rowe was on bail with conditions not to contact his ex-girlfriend or go to her home in College Road, Southwater, after he had been arrested on suspicion of assault a few days earlier.
But just after 2.30am on Saturday July 8 last year, he went to the house and set fires at the front door and in a dog kennel close to a rear kitchen window directly underneath the bedroom window where one of the victim’s young children, a four-year-old, was sleeping.
As neighbours were alerted to the fire and went to help, the victim held her four-month-old baby out of a first floor window to protect the child from smoke billowing through the house until a neighbour climbed a ladder to rescue the youngster.
Outside, those arriving to help were shocked to find a dog on a chain pulling the blazing kennel behind it as it tried desperately to escape the flames. The dog was rescued, but was treated for burns.
Rowe was arrested by police at an address in Sullington around lunchtime on the same day. His car was tracked using automatic number plate recognition and triangulation work on his phone showed that he had been at Pease Pottage services around 2am where he bought a can of petrol.
Yesterday, Rowe appeared by video-link from Lewes Prison at Hove Crown Court for sentencing after pleading guilty to arson with intent to endanger life at an earlier hearing. In sentencing him to six-and-a-half years, including three years on licence upon his release, Judge David Rennie said: “You set two seats of fire in a cold and calculated manner. It beggars belief that you did that knowing that there were two children in the house.
“Lives may not have been lost – but lives have been ruined. The victims will never be able to understand why you did what you did that night.”
Detective Constable Rees Hopcraft said: “Rowe initially tried to mislead us to his whereabouts that night, but we were quickly able to establish just where he had been and when.
“There can be no doubt that his actions were beyond simple arson and were aimed at deliberately targeting the lives of those inside the house.”