Naked woman rescued from burning Darlington home by hero neighbour

Audrey Bell was jailed for 30 months after setting fire to her home in Darlington. Credit: Evening Gazette

A naked woman was rescued from her burning home by a hero neighbour as she lay on her couch smoking a cigarette.

Audrey Bell, 63, set fire to her own home and lay on the sofa refusing to move - before her neighbour ran inside, scooped her up and carried her to safety.

He was commended by a judge for his "brave and humane actions" during a hearing at Teesside Crown Court.

Bell was jailed for 30 months after pleading guilty to arson being reckless as to whether life was endangered.

Judge Peter Makepeace formally commended the neighbour, who was not present at the hearing, for his "bravery and outstanding public conduct", adding he had probably saved Bell's life.

He said: "The risk to this man entering that house - was extremely high. The risk to neighbours from the fire - was extremely high. As a gesture, and a gesture only, £100 is to be paid to this man."

The judge said a letter would be sent to the neighbour, to commend him for his quick actions on the morning of June 15 - when he carried Bell, who was naked but wrapped in a blanket, out of the house despite the fact that she kicked and swore at him.

Bell set fire to her rented terraced home in Prescott Street, Darlington by lighting some papers near a mattress in her bedroom.

When her pillows went up in flames, she later told police that "she went downstairs to lie on her sofa and smoke", prosecutor Paul Abrahams said.

The fireman reported that Bell appeared to be drunk or under the influence of drugs, and she was arrested. They also reported that her house was in a state of disrepair.

The property was managed by Foundation Housing, who provided support for vulnerable tenants who may suffer from mental health problems.

Bell, formerly of Prescott Street in Darlington, and now of HMP Low Newton, pleaded guilty to one count of arson being reckless as to whether life was endangered.

The court heard that she has seven previous convictions for 15 offences- including a previous arson attempt, where she set fire to some leaflets at Darlington police station.

Bell's second arson offence also involved setting fire to her own home. In 2018, she was living in Hartlepool when she set fire to a pile of dry leaves that she brought inside. Bell then refused to leave her burning house.

Audrey Bell was sentenced for arson at Teesside Crown Court. Credit: Evening Gazette

Simon Perkins, mitigating, said that a psychiatrist's report found that his client suffers from depression, personality disorders and substance misuse. "This, as with her two previous arson attempts, was a cry for help," he told the court, "when she was in residential care in Newcastle, she was very stable. But she left to be nearer her children.

"She was living unsupported when this offence took place."

Bell's grandson was in court to support her, and Mr Perkins said that he had tried to get help for her from social services.

Judge Peter Makepeace said that he agreed with a report from probation, that Bell does present a risk of danger. "You told a psychiatrist that you started the fire to get help. The risk of harm was not only to your neighbours, but to the fire service.

"I am satisfied that your responsibility was substantially reduced by reason of mental disorder."

Bell was handed a 30-month prison term.

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