Judge praises 'outstanding bravery' of NHS workers during flat arson

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Graham Goodchild caused £23,000 in damage when he set fire to his flat. - Credit: Archant

A judge has praised the “outstanding bravery” of two NHS workers who rescued a suicidal Ipswich man who set light to his flat.

Sentencing 47-year-old Graham Goodchild for arson, Recorder Sarah Przybylska said that without the quick thinking and courage of Emma Barrell and Kevin Sturgeon he might well have died. 

“In my judgment, they acted with outstanding bravery that day,” said the judge who awarded each of them £400 from the High Sheriff’s Fund in recognition of their “bravery and public spiritedness”.

 Goodchild of Bradfield Avenue, Hadleigh, admitted arson being reckless as to whether life would be endangered at a property in Peppercorn Way, Ipswich in March 2020 and was given a  16 months prison sentence suspended for 12 months, with a mental health treatment requirement. 

Sentencing him Recorder  Przybylska said: “On March 3 2020 you set fire to your housing association property, intending to commit suicide. 

“You were severely depressed and in financial difficulties. You lost your last few pounds gambling in an effort to make enough money to pay your rent. 

“On your way home you bought firelighters. When you got home you went to your first floor bedroom and set fire to your bed. I accept that you did not intend to hurt anyone other than yourself. “However, in setting the fire you caused £23,000 of damage to the property and endangered the lives of those in the adjoining house. 

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“The fire took hold quickly. Far from being overwhelmed by fumes and rendered unconscious as you expected, you found yourself surrounded by flames. 

“Fortunately for you, two NHS employees, Emma Barrell and Kevin Sturgeon, were driving past and saw the conflagration.

“They saw you at an upstairs window and stopped their car. Miss Barrell found the front door unlocked and went in. She saw smoke filling the upstairs hallway. 

“At considerable risk to herself she ran upstairs but was driven back by intense heat. Meanwhile, Mr Sturgeon had been given a ladder by a neighbour. He scaled the wall but found the bedroom window secured by child locks. 

“He returned to the ground, found a hammer, climbed the ladder again and tried to use the hammer to break the locks. Eventually he used brute force to tear the window from the frame. 

“Miss Barrell had noticed an old mattress by the side of the house and brought it to the foot of the ladder in the hope that it would break your fall if you slipped. 

“Unfortunately, you missed your footing as you climbed out of the window and you fell, crashing into a shed and then the ground. You sustained severe burns and significant back injuries and spent several months in hospital.

The judge said  that despite a diagnosis of schizophrenia and depression Goodchild hadn’t been under the community mental health team and lacked support.

She accepted that at the time of the offence he had been severely depressed and hadn’t been  taking his  medication.

 “You have good insight into your mental health, you are complying with your medication regime, you receive support from the community mental health team, you see a psychiatrist every three months, your medication has been altered and the psychiatrist says, and I accept, that your mental health is stable,” said the judge.

Steven Dyble for Godchild, who has no previous convictions, said his client suffered from schizophrenia and had been in a fragile mental state at the time of the offence.