Brothel madam jailed over fatal arson attack on rival premises

A VENGEFUL brothel keeper organised an arson attack on rival premises which killed a prostitute mother-of-two, a judge heard yesterday.

Michelle McCormack was angry at being ejected by the landlord from the premises in Bexley Mount, Harehills, Leeds, where she ran her own brothel with her mother.

Although she opened another brothel, she discovered some of her former girls were still operating from her old address, working for a new rival "sauna".

The angry madam, who had a 160-a-day heroin and crack cocaine habit, spoke of putting her competitor out of business while getting back at her former landlord, Raymond Telford.

Leeds Crown Court heard yesterday that she recruited two men, Karindu Fray and Darren Phelan, who broke into the Harehills premises in the early hours of September 1 last year and started a blaze with petrol.

Andrew Dallas, prosecuting, told the court that the men were unaware that Samantha Pithie, 32, who had been working as a prostitute at the brothel for a short time, had decided to stay overnight and was asleep in an attic room.

Firefighters found the first floor well alight and discovered her body after a search.

McCormack, 32, of Claremont Road, Headingley, Leeds, was jailed for eight years, and Fray, 24, and Phelan, 30, both of Scott Hall Avenue, Leeds, were each jailed for seven years.

All three admitted the manslaughter of Mrs Pithie of Cardinal Grove, Beeston, Leeds.

Mr Justice Simon said McCormack believed the brothel was taking her business and recruited the duo as willing accomplices to start the fire. However, the victim turned out to be Mrs Pithie.

A fourth defendant, Carol Banks, 32, who admitted conspiracy to commit arson reckless whether life was endangered and committing an act intended to pervert the course of justice was given 12 months in prison suspended for two years.

She was sentenced separately after the judge heard she confessed to police about what happened.

Mr Dallas said Banks drove McCormack and the two men on a reconnaissance visit to Bexley Mount earlier on the night of the attack.

She also initially gave McCormack an alibi.

David Hatton QC, for McCormack, said she had no idea anyone was in the premises and had not anticipated the scale of the fire, intending to only cause inconvenience.

He added that a sober person might have foreseen the risks, but at the time McCormack's life was a mess. He said: "She was awash with drugs and alcohol almost on a permanent basis."

Alistair Macdonald QC, for Fray, and Simon Bourne-Arton QC, for Phelan, said they were assured the premises would be empty and had checked by ringing the doorbell and getting no answer. All expressed remorse.