Arsonist who killed children jailed for 30 years

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A woman who murdered five members of a family, including three young children, was branded “despicable” by relatives of the victims as she was jailed for at least 30 years.

Alcoholic Melanie Smith, 43, started the blaze because she was angry that a pushchair had been left in a shared hallway close to the front door of her flat.

Lee-Anna Shiers, 20, her four-year-old nephew, Bailey, and two-year-old niece, Skye, were trapped in their upstairs flat and died in the arson attack in North Wales on October 19 last year.

Firefighters managed to rescue Ms Shiers’s 15-month-old son, Charlie, and his father, Liam Timbrell, 23, but they died in hospital.

Smith, who lived in the flat below the victims in Maes y Groes, Prestatyn, was jailed for life after being convicted of five counts of murder by a jury at Mold Crown Court last Tuesday.

Steve Allen, the father of Bailey and Skye, said yesterday he had been looking forward to seeing them grow up.

“Instead, one despicable person has taken them away,” he said.

He added: “Nothing will ever bring any of our family back to us, but Melanie Smith will now be given what she deserves.”

Peter Shiers, the children’s grandfather,said: “Justice is now served and all our little angels can rest in peace.”

Stephanie Watson, Mr Timbrell’s mother, fought back tears as she added: “This has been a long and painful road for all the family and one that can never bring back any of our children or grandchildren. In this terrible tragedy there is some comfort knowing that justice has been done, although no sentence can truly reflect the severity of the crime.”

Smith had wept as the sentence was passed by trial judge Mr Justice Griffith-Williams.

She was convicted last Tuesday of five counts of murder and one count of making threats of arson after the jury of seven women and five men reached 10-2 majority verdicts.

Her trial heard that she had been increasingly angry with Ms Shiers, accusing her of being a noisy and untidy neighbour. Smith had been heard complaining about Ms Shiers leaving the pram in the hallway and leaving cigarette ends around the front door area.

On the night of the fire, Smith was drunk and started the blaze “in a rage” after hearing Ms Shiers and Mr Timbrell having sex upstairs.

The court was played a harrowing 999 call in which Mr Timbrell shouted: “Oh my God, oh my God, we’re going to die.”

The jury was told that Mr Timbrell later told rescuing paramedics “It was arson” and “It was Mel” and said he heard Smith shouting through the letterbox that she was going to burn the house down.

Mr Justice Griffith-Williams told Smith that at first it seemed unlikely that a mother-of-five with no previous convictions could set fire to a house with people in it.

But, after hearing the evidence, he said he was satisfied that Smith set fire to the pushchair.

He said Smith was motivated by jealousy due to her faltering relationship with a man she accused of cheating on her. Her hatred for her rival and her drinking, had taken over her life.

“The setting-fire to the pushchair was an act of exceptional wickedness, almost unparalleled in its consequences,” the judge said.

“For those who had to hear the evidence of the 999 calls, the horror of those moments in the flat upstairs as Lee-Anna and Liam faced the awful inevitability of their imminent deaths will be forever etched on their memories.”

Proesecutor Karen Dixon said Smith started the fire “knowing that a family with children lived in the flat upstairs and with no regard for the consequences”.

“At no stage has she has chosen to take any responsibility for the five lives tragically lost as a result of her actions,” she said.

In her victim impact statement, partially read to the court today, Skye and Bailey’s mother, Jonty Lewis, said: “People always ask me if I’m okay and I lie.

“In truth my heart is not just broken, it has been torn apart.

“I realise I will never hold my children’s hands again, teach them to ride a bike, the ‘normal’ things a parent should be allowed to do.

“Christmas, birthdays, nothing will ever be the same.

Lee-Anna’s mother, Joy Shiers, said her family was haunted by sleepless nights after seeing the flat burn knowing the children were trapped inside.