Haverhill woman found guilty of starting house fire

Two teenagers were approached by a man in a car who asked them to get in
Two teenagers were approached by a man in a car who asked them to get in

A jury has decided that a Haverhill woman started a fire which endangered the life of her boyfriend.

Deborah Branson-Butler, 39, of Somerset Court, Haverhill was charged with arson with intent to endanger life.

Yesterday (Wednesday) at Ipswich Crown Court a jury returned a verdict that she had committed the act with which she was charged.

Before the jury began hearing the prosecution case, Judge David Goodin told them that it was an unusual trial because Branson-Butler was unwell and would not be in court during the hearing.

Judge Goodin said it was the job of the jury to decide whether Branson-Butler did start the fire deliberately.

Prosecuting, Lori Tucker said that Brian Coe, who had been working a night shift, had returned to the bedsit in Somerset Court that he shared with Branson-Butler at about 6am on April 29 last year.

After making himself and Branson-Butler a cup of tea, Mr Coe had gone to bed and a short time later fallen asleep.

At that time there was no-one else other than the couple inside the bedsit and the outside door was locked, said Ms Tucker.

Mr Coe had woken up at about 11am to find the room filled with smoke and the sofa on fire.

Ms Tucker said: “He was choking and couldn’t hear anything because he was wearing ear plugs to help him sleep but he could see that the room was full of smoke.”

In a bid to contain the fire Mr Coe tried to beat out the flames and threw burning cushions out of the door. He looked around to see where Branson-Butler was but she was not there, the court heard.

Mr Coe said he managed to get outside and called the fire service who had to break down the front door to quell the blaze because he had locked himself out as he fled.

The jury heard from a fire investigator who said an examination of the sofa showed that it had been set on fire by a naked flame being held against the fabric.

Tests ruled out other causes including a discarded cigarette end or an electrical fault.

Branson-Butler, known to friends as Debbie, was detained at about midday the same day in Burton End, Haverhill wearing a dressing gown and with nothing on her feet.

Because of her condition Branson-Butler was granted police bail until May 10 when she was rearrested and interviewed.

The jury heard details of what Branson-Butler told police, including that she had been feeling very low and wanted to kill her boyfriend.

She said: “I got a lighter and set fire to the sofa.”

Judge Goodin said that Branson-Butler, who is currently being cared for at a specialist unit, will be sentenced on July 30.