Three prison officers taken to hospital after inmate set fire to his cell

Rowe set fire to his cell in HMP Northumberland after being refused a transfer.
Rowe set fire to his cell in HMP Northumberland after being refused a transfer.

Three prison officers were taken to hospital after a jail inmate sparked a major fire in his cell.

Sean Rowe caused £1,500 of damage by torching a shelving unit and fuelling the flames with fabric while serving a sentence at HMP Northumberland.

The 25-year-old caused an ‘intense’ fire, which was made more dangerous due to a ventilation system in the prison not working at the time.

Prison officers tried to extinguish the blaze within seconds, but were overcome with smoke and had to be taken to hospital while fire crews tackled it.

One officer described the cell blaze as the worst he had seen in his 28-year career.

Newcastle Crown Court heard an entire wing had to be evacuated while the flames were extinguished by two fire crews.

At the time, Rowe was serving an 81-month sentence for an offence “of the type that can lead to bullying in the prison environment” and had requested to be transferred.

Rowe, who appeared for sentence via video-link to the same prison, was sentenced to another 20 months for arson.

Recorder Caroline Wigin told him: “The consequences of you setting fire to your cell were that not only were the contents destroyed, but the people who came to help you - the prison officers who were on the scene within 30 seconds of the fire being started - several of them had to be taken to hospital because of the effects of smoke inhalation.

“It seems the automatic ventilation system did not respond as it should, so these men doing a public duty, because of the smoke from the fire you had made, required hospital treatment.

“I accept you were under pressure and stress at the time as a result of the type of offending you had committed and the reaction of fellow prisoners to that offending.”

The court heard inmates at the prison in Morpeth had been locked in their cells at lunchtime on February 25 when Rowe started the fire.

Officers were alerted by a detection unit which showed his cell to be the source of the blaze.

Prosecutor Michael Bunch said: “On looking through the spy hole they were able to see there was a fire burning in the corner of the cell and the cell was filled with smoke.

“The fire was intense at that time and a prison officer with 28 years experience described it as the worst fire in a cell he had ever seen.

“A shelving unit with a TV on it was on fire and in addition clothing and towels were stacked up in order to increase the size of the fire.

“The defendant had his jumper covering his mouth and nose because of the smoke.

“One officer took the defendant to a safe area and attempts were made to put the fire out with an extinguisher.

“However, the prison officer felt the effects of the smoke and was coughing and moved away.”

Three prison officers were taken to hospital for treatment, while another was treated at the scene.

A fire investigation showed a ventilation system was not working properly because an extractor fan was jammed, increasing the risk the fire posed.

Mr Bunch said: “The defendant had requested a move from that cell a week before the fire. That had not been possible.

“When interviewed by the police, the defendant offered no account as to what had happened or why the fire had taken place.”

Rowe, formerly of West Wylam Drive, Prudhoe, was convicted of arson in his absence by magistrates after refusing to attend court.

The court heard he was jailed for 81 months in November 2014 for two offences on the same complainant but full details were not revealed during the latest hearing.

Paul Cross, defending, said: “He got a very long sentence for an offence that can cause attention from others.

“He wanted to move cell because he was having these problems.

“He told the psychiatrist he intended to take his own life but then regretted it and was glad to be rescued.

“If he risked anyone’s life it was probably his own. He has some psychiatric problems and finds it difficult to control his temper."