Arsonist who pretended to play the hero convicted after admitting he started the fire

Northumbria Police

An arsonist who pretended to play the hero after his neighbour’s flat went up in flames faces jail – after admitting he started the fire.

The fierce blaze broke out in an upstairs flat on Whitehall Terrace in Sunderland just before midnight in August 2019.

Robert Barnett – who lived downstairs – was seen running into the fire in what he claimed was an attempt to save his neighbour living above, after he had heard “screaming” and saw her staircase engulfed in flames.

Fearing for her life after finding herself trapped inside, the female occupant jumped from a top-floor window and was left with a fractured spine.

It later transpired that 30-year-old Barnett had in fact started the fire, after he was caught on CCTV going in and out of his neighbour’s address in the moments before the blaze.

Credit: Northumbria Police

Barnett initially refuted his involvement and insisted he was just trying to help his neighbour, but this week admitted arson being reckless as to whether life is endangered. He is due to be sentenced this summer.

Detective Sergeant David Vincent, of Northumbria Police, said: “Robert Barnett tried to convince everybody that he was the hero, who was willing to sacrifice his own safety in a bid to rescue his neighbour who he believed to be trapped upstairs.

“But his account was built on lies – knowing full well that he was the one who had lit the flame and caused the significant blaze that had engulfed the property.

The victim suffered significant injuries as a result of the blaze and her health has since deteriorated. It must have been a horrifying experience for her, fearing she was trapped and her only escape was to jump out of her upstairs window. “It is therefore imperative that the person responsible is brought to justice, and I sincerely hope this outcome can offer the victim and her family some comfort.

Detective Sergeant David Vincent, Northumbria Police

“Barnett should be absolutely ashamed of his actions, and I am pleased that he has now been convicted at court. His actions were reckless and unlawful – and he now faces a significant jail term as a result of his decisions that night.”

Robert Barnett after the fire Credit: Northumbria Police

After the fire had started, Barnett was seen on CCTV running out of his address in just his boxer shorts and calling 999.

He then entered his downstairs flat and put on a pair of trousers which he believed were fire-resistant, along with a quilt, and darted up the stairs of the burning property.

Suffering burns to his feet and hands, Barnett was forced out of the flat due to the ferocity of the fire – by which point the occupant had already jumped from an upstairs window.

In interview, Barnett was shown CCTV footage which tracked his movements prior to the blaze which clearly showed him leaving the rear gate of his property and entering his neighbour’s upstairs flat.

Barnett, of no fixed abode, pleaded guilty to arson being reckless as to whether life is endangered when he appeared at Newcastle Crown Court on Tuesday (April 13).

He is due to be sentenced at the same court on July 12.