Exceptional reasons keep mum from jail

MOTHER-of-five Donna Vinecombe drunk half a bottle of vodka and then set fire to her Felixstowe flat – endangering scores of fellow flat owners.The 40-year-old only escaped jail after Bury St Edmunds magistrates' court heard of the "exceptional" circumstances leading up to the blaze.

MOTHER-of-five Donna Vinecombe drunk half a bottle of vodka and then set fire to her Felixstowe flat – endangering scores of fellow flat owners.

The 40-year-old only escaped jail after Bury St Edmunds magistrates' court heard of the "exceptional" circumstances leading up to the blaze.

Vinecombe, who pleaded guilty to the offence, was sentenced to a three-year community rehabilitation order for the fire, which ripped through her flat, in St Andrew's Road, on the afternoon of August 17, 2001.

Two neighbours alerted the fire brigade after hearing a "huge bang" and seeing flames shooting from the property.

Vinecombe was seen grasping for air at a front window but was heard to shout down to firefighters: "Leave me in here and let me burn". Firefighters broke in to rescue her but the flat was left gutted.

The court heard that Vinecombe had no recollection of setting her flat on fire due to the amount of alcohol she had consumed. Investigations later proved that the fire was started deliberately.

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Defending, Caroline Bryant said: "Donna accepts the fire was started deliberately but doesn't remember it. She realises that her actions put the lives of others at risk."

On the morning of the blaze, Vinecombe had an argument with her then boyfriend and was "at the end of her tether".

Miss Bryant said: "She was in violent relationship and had been through a succession of beatings. She couldn't take any more."

Vinecombe, who was shaking throughout her court appearance, also had a "difficult" childhood and has "suicidal tendencies".

Vinecombe has now moved back into her flat, in St Andrew's Road, and is receiving the full support of her neighbours. She is still trying to replace the possessions she lost in the blaze, which were uninsured.

Judge Philip Curl said: "The best way to reduce any of these incidents happening in the future is to give you help. I don't consider that prison would help you."

He also ordered Vinecombe to complete a course to deal with her alcohol misuse.

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