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Man jailed for sibling deaths blaze
A "lethal combination" of cannabis and vodka and a "fascination" with fire was to blame for a teenager starting a blaze which killed four siblings, a judge said today.
Dyson Allen, 19, was "out of his head" drunk and stoned when he lit hanging clothes in a bedroom wardrobe where four-year-old twins Holly and Ella Smith and their two-year-old brother, Jordan, were sleeping.
Their elder brother, Reece, 19, was overcome by fumes as he went upstairs at the family home in Freckleton, Lancashire, to try to rescue them.
All four died from the effects of smoke inhalation from the blaze on January 7 last year.
Preston Crown Court heard the defendant had not grown out of a history of playing with fire when intoxicated which he regarded as a "party trick".
The family friend was staying with the Smith family after his grandmother had kicked him out because of his heavy cannabis use.
On the night of the fire a birthday party was held for mother-of-nine Michelle Smith at her home in Lytham Road.
Most of the partygoers were drunk including Allen who drank vodka during the day and into the evening and also smoked a large quantity of cannabis through a bong.
David Fish QC, defending, said his client was "industrious" until he started taking cannabis in his mid-teens.
The drug use "took its toll" and he lost his job as an apprentice mechanic and could then not find work.
Sentencing him to life imprisonment, Mr Justice Males said Allen had no motive to harm the children or anyone in the Smith family.
Addressing Allen, he said: "So why did you do it? In one sense, what prompted you to do this terrible thing - not only starting a fire in a room where defenceless young children were asleep but waiting for several minutes before raising the alarm - is a mystery.
"But in another sense, why you did it seems clear enough. It was because you were out of your head due to the lethal combination of alcohol and cannabis which you had taken that day and because of your fascination with fire, particularly when you are affected by drink or drugs.
"If you had not been drinking alcohol and smoking cannabis, four young people would still be alive and several other lives would not have been blighted.
"But although you were intoxicated, you were not so intoxicated that you did not know what you were doing.
"While you did not intend to cause serious harm to the children, you knew what you were doing in starting the fire and you had ample experience of the danger of fire."
Giving evidence, Allen admitted his involvement in starting a locker fire when he was a pupil at his former high school and also setting fire to a local field.
He would light bonfires using petrol and aerosol cans "to add to the excitement and danger" and would also light deodorant spray to act as "flamethrowers".
Nine months before the fatal fire he thought "it was funny to terrorise teenage girls" by waving around one of his makeshift flamethrowers at a house party, the court was told.
And the week before the deaths he lit another flamethrower at the dormer bungalow in Lytham Road.
Mr Justice Males told him: "You have failed completely to recognise the dangerous nature of such conduct which, when you are drunk or drugged, you regard as funny or as a kind of party trick.
"I do not accept that there is now little or no risk because you have learned your lesson.
"If you were going to learn a lesson, it might have been expected that you would do so long ago when on one occasion you injured yourself as a result of your games with fire. But you did not learn then and your games continued."
Allen left the bedroom and waited for the fire to take hold, the court heard.
He only came down the stairs to raise the alarm when the intense heat melted the aluminium light fitting and caused the electricity in the house to fail, said Mr Justice Males.
"The fire had awoken the three children," said the judge. "They could be heard calling for their mother.
"One of the twins, Ella, stood on the molten carpet and suffered what must have been agonising burns to her feet.
"But in the dark and the heat and the smoke the frightened children were unable to find their way out of the bedroom and all attempts to rescue them were beaten back due to the smoke."
He told Allen he had lied repeatedly to the police and in court, and also in his evidence had tried to shift the blame on to a young girl with a troubled background who was also at the party.
Allen was cleared of four counts of murder by a jury was but was convicted on alternative counts of manslaughter.
He had denied all the charges.
The judge said he considered Allen to be a significant risk to the public and that he must serve a minimum of nine years and three months in jail before he could be considered for parole.
He has already spent nine months in custody.
Following sentencing, Michelle Smith said: "Why or what he did, we still do not know.
"We have to live with the loss of the children each and every day. Dyson Allen has shown no remorse or regret for his actions, still refusing to tell us, what exactly happened.
"Every birthday that I have - will be the anniversary of my children's deaths."