Stranger's convertible torched by reckless Devon fire-starter

Melanie Balshaw has been jailed for arson
Melanie Balshaw has been jailed for arson -Credit:Devon & Cornwall Police

A woman has been jailed for torching a vehicle in a car park next to the police station in Newton Abbot. Melanie Balshaw, aged 40, said it was a cry for help because she was suffering with her mental health.

Three months later, while on police bail, she set fire to a sofa in her flat in Torquay. She told police she wanted to rid herself of items that gave her bad memories.

Balshaw pleaded guilty to two offences of arson and one of criminal damage when she appeared at Exeter Crown Court on Tuesday. She was jailed for one year and eight months.

The court was told she does not fully appreciate the seriousness and potentially "catastrophic" consequences of her fire-starting.

The first offence happened on September 13 of last year. At 8:45pm she was captured on footage walking across the Newfoundland Way car park and crouching behind a Mazda convertible.

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She ran away after stuffing firelighters into the exhaust and setting them alight. Balshaw made a call to police from a phone box and confessed.

Balshaw told police she 'hoped it would explode'. She damaged a police cell while in custody.

On December 2023 she was at it again. At 10:25pm police were alerted to a fire at the Sunningdale Holiday Apartments on Babbacombe Downs. The sofa, carpet and ceilings were damaged. Balshaw was found sleeping rough outside the nearby Co-op.

The owner of the Mazda said in a statement that he wanted whoever was responsible to get the help they needed. He said the car had been a gift after he had suffered a bereavement and the whole incident had been traumatic. The car was a write-off.

Balshaw has 50 previous crimes to her name but nothing since 2006. She had spent a long time in prison for a previous offence but had shown she could reform. Her recent behaviour had been triggered by a relationship breakdown and she had been living rough.

The probation report assessed Balshaw as posing a high risk and ruled out rehabilitation work.

Judge James Adkin said: "Your emotional distress seems to manifest itself as a need to start fires. Your attitude is you don't appreciate the seriousness or don't care for the catastrophic consequences. You are a high risk and have a lack of insight."