A “drugged up” petty criminal who caused £5.6 million worth of damage to a railway station after setting fire to a toilet block has been jailed for just over two years.
Heroin and cocaine addict Gemma Peat, who had been taking the class A drugs in the toilets at Nottingham Station immediately before the fire on January 12 last year, started the blaze by exposing a naked flame to a sanitary bin.
The 34-year-old, of Wilford Crescent, Nottingham, who had previously committed a total of 108 different offences including shoplifting, possession of knives and assaulting emergency workers, had pleaded guilty to a single count of arson on August 7.
Nottingham Crown Court heard that more than 100 firefighters were brought in to tackle the fire – which was only able to spread to the station’s “linking bridge” due to defects in the building’s construction.
The court was told that the station’s builders had “cut corners” after packing the wall supporting the toilet block with a foot of highly flammable polystyrene after realising the ceiling was uneven.
The prosecution said Network Rail had ensured there were no such defects in the reconstruction project.
Sentencing Peat to 25 months in prison on Tuesday, Judge Gregory Dickinson QC said: “This offence is a consequence of drug addiction. Your reason for going into a toilet was to smoke heroin and crack cocaine.
“At some point you recklessly discarded smouldering debris in a sanitary bin in the cubicle.
“The bin must have been smouldering as you left. You should have realised but you may not have done in your drugged up state.
“The harm in this case was, in suitable terms, massive.”
The judge continued: “There was of course a risk to the safety of the public, the staff and the firefighters.
“It was a stupid and dangerous thing to do and it disregarded the safety of the public.
“However, it is important to establish that this fire was started recklessly – thoughtlessly but not deliberately.”
The blaze, which was started shortly before 6.30am, closed the station, several surrounding roads and the tram-line while it was being tackled.
Explaining how the fire was started, Peat’s defence barrister Adrian Langdale said: “On that January morning, Miss Peat was already heavily intoxicated.
“She had managed to obtain more drugs and she was in search of somewhere that was warm and dry in order to take them.
“In the next 30 minutes or so she took those drugs – heroin and crack cocaine. A naked flame has to be introduced to take both of those.
“It is likely that she disposed of the materials she used and got rid of it in the only way she could have done – in a sanitary box in the corner.”
Opening the case against Peat, prosecutor Grace Hale said: “The fire service were called at 6.23am. It was extremely hot according to the firemen who attended.
“As soon as they had tackled the fire and could stand up, it was then that they saw it had spread to the ceiling above.
“The wall that supported the public toilets should have had a compartment that would have provided 60 minutes of fire containment but it didn’t extend all the way to the metal roof. There was a gap.
“That enabled the rapid spread of the fire.”
Speaking of the defendant’s first police interview, Ms Hale said: “The prosecution submit that Gemma Peat made attempts to suggest that other drug users were in there.
“There were attempts to deflect blame from her to others.”
After jailing Peat, the judge said clearer regulations should have been in place about raising the alarm and closer consideration should have been placed on fire prevention.
He said: “Toilets in public places like railway stations are sometimes used by people who smoke drugs. It is a sad fact but it is true.
“It seems to me that those who are responsible (for the toilets) should be aware of that.
“There should have been clearer rules about raising the alarm.”