Her neighbours were 'totally oblivious' to what she had planned as they sat in their home

Claire Shacklock outside Liverpool Crown Court
-Credit: (Image: Liverpool Echo)

A woman hurled a "huge fireball" at her neighbour's house has been spared jail.

The couple and their dogs were forced to flee their home in terror as Claire Shacklock began to set items on fire and launch them at their back door. They have been left convinced that they "could have died" during the arson attack, which was said to have "turned their lives upside down".

Liverpool Crown Court heard that married couple Paul and Danielle Henderson had spent the evening of August 5 2022 at home on Frodsham Street in Walton "totally oblivious as to what was about to happen". Paul Blasbery, prosecuting, said: "At about 20 to 10, their lives were effectively turned upside down when their neighbour set fire to their house."

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The Hendersons had lived at the address for around two years and had "very little interaction" with Shacklock until they began to have "trouble" around May or June that year, including minor "vandalism" and "words said". On the night in question, they had left the door leading from their kitchen into their rear yard open in order to let their dogs move in and out of the property.

Mr Henderson was said to have fallen asleep on the sofa when his wife "saw out of the corner of her eye a flash in the back garden" which "looked like fire", followed by a "second flash which she immediately recognised to be flames". She realised that items which had been set alight were being thrown towards their property from Shacklock's garden, while she could also "smell a very strong smell of petrol".

After being woken up by his partner, the husband went to the back door and "saw the defendant throwing things which were on fire into the garden, towards the back door". He shouted for the firebug to stop while Mrs Henderson watched on from an upstairs window.

She then recalled seeing a "huge fireball suddenly being thrown over the fence to the back door", which was then "engulfed in flames". Mr Henderson "shouted for her to get out", and they grabbed hold of their pets before fleeing into the street.

Merseyside Fire and Rescue Service subsequently attended the scene and extinguished the flames, with investigations establishing that the cause of the fire had been the "deliberate ignition of combustible items and liquids with a naked flame". The blaze caused damage to the back door, with Mr Blasbery adding: "If the fire had managed to breach the door, it could have spread into the kitchen and spread very quickly."

Shacklock, now of Scotchbarn Lane in Prescot, gave a prepared statement to detectives under interview "apologising for her actions" and "stated that she was very poorly and had no reliable recollection of the events". The 50-year-old has no previous convictions.

Claire Shacklock outside Liverpool Crown Court
Claire Shacklock outside Liverpool Crown Court -Credit:Liverpool Echo

In a statement which was read out to the court on her behalf, Ms Henderson described how they "could have died" during the incident and have since moved home - adding: "We want her to understand the emotional trauma she has caused us, and we can only hope that over time this will change. My mind is occupied by wondering about the worst case scenario, and we just wonder why."

Matthew O'Neill, defending, told the court: "Ms Shacklock's mental health his improved significantly since this offence. There were clearly serious concerns over her mental health.

"Ms Shacklock is a woman of previous good character, someone who has suffered significant trauma in her life. She can only put the loss of her sister at a young age as to why her mental health quickly deteriorated.

"In 2013, she was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. At the time the offence was committed, her mental health had spiralled completely out of control due to her not taking her medication.

"She had made various attempts to take her own life previously. The Ms Shacklock before you today is a different Ms Shacklock to the one setting alight her neighbour's property back in 2022.

"I concede the significant impact it would have had on the complainants. She has had to live with herself and her foolish actions.

"It is a very sad case for all. You have a person of nearly 50 before the court for the first time in her life for a very serious matter, where there is a real risk of her losing her liberty.

"She had gone some 47 years without committing any offence and lived a law abiding and hard working life. Consideration can be given to a suspended period of imprisonment."

Shacklock pleaded guilty to arson during an earlier hearing. She was handed a two-year imprisonment suspended for two years by Judge Garrett Byrne this afternoon, Friday, as well as being told to complete a rehabilitation activity requirement of up to 30 days and a nine-month mental health treatment requirement.

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