FIRESTARTER Geoffrey Sweeney torched his Newbiggin home the day after he was told he was being evicted for rent arrears. Sweeney had been informed he was being evicted after he repeatedly failed for pay up for his council home.
One day later, in the process of being evicted and having drunk 20 cans of beer, he returned to the house and set fire to his living room. Now the arsonist has avoided prison after a judge suspended his jail term.
Judge Esmond Faulks, at Newcastle Crown Court, told Sweeney: “Arson is always regarded as a serious offence, as once the fire has started, no one can tell where it will end up.
“Had the fire gone further it might easily have gone into your neighbour’s house.”
Sweeney, 36, had been told he was facing eviction proceedings against him on November 8 last year, and told he had eight days to get out.
The next day he turned up drunk at the semi-detached house, on Westmoreland Avenue, Newbiggin-by-the-Sea.
He went to his neighbour’s home first and told him he was going to set light to his property, saying: “Get out now, this is your only warning”.
However the neighbour did not take Sweeney’s threats seriously and so stayed in his home. Half an hour later the brigade was outside and Sweeney had gone through with his threat, torching a pair of curtains.
The damage was limited to the lounge, and the top of the window and curtains were burned and there was smoke damage to the home, which had just had £10,000 spent on doing it up, the court heard.
When Sweeney was arrested he said he had intended to kill himself, but said after breaking in he had turned the gas off before lighting the fire, to avoid an explosion.
He admitted arson being reckless as to whether life was endangered and was jailed for 36 weeks, suspended for two years, with supervision.
Shaun Routledge, defending, said: “When depressed he turns to drink, and is a danger to himself and others.’’