Arsonist placed more than 100 lives at risk by torching Leeds tower block

A serial arsonist deliberately endangered the lives of more than 100 people by torching a tower block in Leeds.

By The Newsroom
Tuesday, 7th August 2018, 10:29 am
Updated Tuesday, 7th August 2018, 10:33 am

Matthew Taylor was given a life sentence over his attempts to set fire to Poplar Mount, in Bramley.

Taylor piled up bags of rubbish next to the ground floor exit of the 11-storey flats block before setting it alight.

PICS: Steve Riding/WYP

The 32-year-old then lit another rubbish bag before putting it in a lift and taking it to the top floor.

Taylor got out but pressed every button so the blazing lift would stop at each floor on the way back down to the ground floor.

Leeds Crown Court heard he repeated his actions on two more occasions and continued to put more rubbish into the lift to “stoke” the blaze.

Disaster was avoided when the fire brigade were contacted and managed to put out the blaze.

Taylor was interviewed by police but placed the lives of his fellow tenants in danger for a second time when he was released pending an investigation.

The court heard he tied the seventh floor communal stairwell doors together with a petrol-soaked rag and set it alight.

Prosecutor Nigel Jamieson said: “Occupants of the upper floors may have been trapped had the fire taken hold.” The offences took place in the early hours of the morning when most of the 140 residents at Popular Mount were asleep in bed.

Taylor carried out further arson attacks at the homes of his girlfriend and her next door neighbour the following day on Henley Place, Bramley.

He put flammable material through the neighbour’s letter box before setting fire to the front door.

Taylor then put a child’s blanket in the letterbox at his girlfriend’s home, set it alight and went back to bed.

Taylor’s partner’s friend was also in the property at the time and suffered burns as she tried to escape.

She had to be rescued from the back-to-back property after she dialled 999.

She also had to spend three days in hospital after the incident, on May 13 this year, due to the effects of smoke inhalation.

The court heard she has suffered damage to her voice box from the smoke and may need a skin graft operation over the burns to her hand.

The neighbour also had to be given oxygen after his home was filled with smoke when the door was “engulfed” by flames.

Mr Jamieson said: “The defendant did nothing to raise the alarm in any of his actions.”

Taylor, who lived on the top floor of Poplar Mount, pleaded guilty to three offences of arson with intent to endanger life and one of arson being reckless as to whether life was endangered.

Ian Cook, mitigating, said: “There is an understanding by this defendant of the potential devastating consequences and unimaginable consequences of his actions.”

“The defendant has struggled to put forward any to why he behaved in such a fashion.

“He struggles to put forward any explanation today.”

Mr Cook said his client had a history of depression and issues with drugs and alcohol.

The lawyer added that Taylor was now doing his best to address his offending behaviour and had received a “health and safety award” while in custody.

A psychiatrist assessed Taylor as posing a serious future risk to members of the public by starting fires. A probation service report assessed Taylor as “showing little interest” in addressing his offending behaviour.”

Judge Guy Kearl, QC imposed a life sentence and told Taylor he must serve a minimum of six years, nine months in custody before he can apply to the parole board for release.

But the judge warned Taylor it is likely that he will spend much longer behind bars. He said: “Unless the parole board consider that your release is appropriate then you will be remanded in custody.”

Describing the first arson attack at Poplar Mount, the judge added: “This was a persistent attempt to set fire to the building with all of the occupants inside over a period of just under one hour.