Monday October 16th 2018
A female prisoner who repeatedly started fires in her cells blamed one of them on a non-existent woman, a court heard.
Melanie Shaw, who has been deemed unfit to stand trial, allegedly started four fires in her cells over four months.
The court heard that when the 48-year-old emerged from her single-occupancy cell in the segregation unit of HMP New Hall, she blamed the latest fire on a woman called Lorraine.
David Horne, prosecuting, told Leeds Crown Court on Monday: “She came out [of the cell] with a wet towel over her head.”
She was moved to a different cell and said someone called Lorraine had started the fire.
“It was a single-occupancy cell. No one else was in it.” The court heard that there was no one by that name near the cell, either.
UPDATE on this story: Jury decides that Beechwood whistleblower Melanie Shaw set fire to her cell three times
Shaw allegedly started three fires in her cells in HMP Foston in Derbyshire between February 8 and 10 last year.
She was later moved to the segregation unit on HMP New Hall in Flockton, near Wakefield, and allegedly started a fourth fire there in June last year.
The court heard the fire in HMP New Hall damaged bedding and the prison cell.HMP New Hall was a smoking prison at the time and lighters were available to buy in the canteen.
As Shaw was getting out of her blackened and wet clothes into clean clothes, she allegedly produced a lighter from her bra.
The first fire in HMP Foston Hall happened at around 8pm on February 8 and damaged a mattress, bedding and a duvet.
The court heard the cell had been locked when the fire started and when she was let out of the cell, she said: “I did not endanger anyone. The building is made of steel and concrete.”
The court heard it caused other prisoners to be moved out of the corridor too and Shaw said: “It’s just a peaceful protest.”
The second fire happened 3pm on February 10 and damaged a duvet.
The court heard that before the fire started a member of staff heard her say: “That’s it, I’m starting a fire.”
The third fire happened later that day and damaged a mattress.
The fourth fire happened on June 21 and damaged bedding and the prison cell.
When she was interviewed by police, she admitted starting the fires, saying she wanted to end her life and it was a cry for help.
Shaw, who was previously being held in HMP Eastwood Park in Gloucestershire, has been moved around prisons in England.
She is facing four counts of arson being reckless as to whether property was damaged or destroyed.
A finding of fact trial is being held in Shaw’s absence. A jury of seven women and five heard she was deemed unfit to stand trial.
The trial continues today, Tuesday.