Heroic police officers who saved Ipswich woman from blaze praised by judge as she is jailed for starting fire

The aftermath of a Christmas evening fire in La Salle Close, Ipswich

The aftermath of a Christmas evening fire in La Salle Close, Ipswich

A suicidal Ipswich woman who was dragged unconscious from her burning home by two heroic police officers after she started a fire in her bedroom on Christmas Day has been jailed for 40 months.

Kerri Mills, who was jailed for arson after being rescued by police

Kerri Mills, who was jailed for arson after being rescued by police - Credit: Archant

Kerri Mills, who lived in La Salle Close, told a police officer on her way to hospital that she had set light to her duvet because she hadn’t received a text from her mother to say “Happy Christmas”, Ipswich Crown Court heard.

Jailing 37-year-old Mills, who admitted arson being reckless as to whether life would be endangered, Judge John Devaux commended the bravery of Sergeant Ali Livingstone and his colleague Pc Ali Maidment who braved thick smoke and flames and risked their own lives to save her.

The court heard that seconds after they hauled Mills downstairs and out of the mid-terrace property to safety there was an explosion in the front bedroom causing the window to shatter and glass to rain down on them.

Judge Devaux said although doctors had diagnosed Mills with a borderline personality disorder and alcohol dependence disorder, a hospital treatment order was not recommended.

He said although it was unlikely any treatment would be available in prison for Mills she posed a high risk of causing harm to others and herself and would have to serve a prison sentence

Lynne Shirley, prosecuting, told the court that police went to Mills’ home, where she lived with her dogs, at around 9pm on Christmas Day after receiving a call from her saying she had set fire to her house.

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Sgt Livingstone and Pc Maidment could see flames at an upstairs window and after breaking the front door down and equipped with just a fire extinguisher they found Mills unconscious in an upstairs bedroom and dragged her out.

In a statement read to the court Sgt Livingstone described immediately being affected by the heat from the blaze when he entered the house and finding it hard to breathe

He had crawled on his hands and knees up the staircase by torchlight and found Mills who was unconscious by a doorway.

He described what happened as “the most frightening incident in his 16 years of service.”

Pc Maidment described having trouble breathing immediately after the rescue and said the danger he had placed himself in had played on his mind since the incident.

Roger Thomson, for Mills, said his client was deeply sorry for what she had done and had not intended to put anyone else at risk of harm.

He said the fire was the result of a suicide attempt by Mills who was in a “pit of despair and loneliness and felt no-one cared about her”.

Since the arson Mills, who had a history of depression, anxiety, drinking and suicidal tendencies, had been making progress and was no longer interested in alcohol and was taking new medication.

In an interview after the incident Sgt Livingstone recalled: “Ali rushed upstairs but had to come back down because the heat and smoke was too much and he was on the verge of being overcome by it.

“I then went up and by this point there was absolutely no visibility. I managed to crawl onto the landing and feel my way towards the room that was on fire and I felt a body lying in the doorway.

“I had to retreat again because it was just too hot and smoky and I couldn’t breathe.”

Sgt Livingstone then went back upstairs a second time and managed to grab the woman by her clothing before both officers dragged her headfirst down the stairs and out of the front door.

“By that point the flames were already over the height of the building and the room was completely ablaze,” Sgt Livingstone continued.

“Having arrived at the front door exhausted and a bit overcome ourselves, the windows started exploding so there was glass showering down – it was like a cross between London’s Burning and The Bill.

“All of the windows started blowing out of the upstairs so we had to drag the woman further away to get her somewhere safe. The fire service then arrived and immediately went in with breathing apparatus and checked that there was no-one else in the house.”

Both officers, who are the best of friends and describe themselves as a “great team”, needed oxygen for the effects of smoke inhalation but both were back at work less than 24 hours later.

Within a short time of the blaze police successfully found new owners for two dogs, two cats and a rabbit found at the house.