Arson trial: Jury considering verdicts on Sunderland men accused over fires at rapper's houses

A jury has retired to consider its verdicts in the case of two men accused of a series of arsons.

Thursday, 8th March 2018, 12:45 pm
Updated Thursday, 8th March 2018, 12:50 pm
Teesside Crown Court, where the trial is taking place

Alan Smart is alleged to have set three fires, two at houses lived in by rap singer David Baker, and to have set fire to Mr Baker's Audi car.

David Roberts is alleged to have driven Smart to Seaham to set one of the house fires, and to have driven him away from the scene.

Prosecutors claim the target of all three fires was Mr Baker, who owed money to a drug dealing associate of Smart.

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Mr Baker is also said to have enraged Smart by recording two rap songs which were 'disrespectful;' to him.

A jury at Teesside Crown Court heard the most serious fire was at Princess Road in Seaham, where Mr Baker was spending much of his time with his partner Vicki Barnes.

"Mr Baker was not in the house at the time," said Peter Makepeace QC, prosecuting.

"The prosecution say neither of the defendants knew Mr Baker wasn't in.

"Ms Barnes was awoken by what she thought was an explosion.

"She had taken a sleeping draught which would normally cause her to sleep through anything.

"She got up and found flames licking up the stairs and smoke filling the air.

"Disorientated, she went to her child's bedroom, but then remembered, thankfully, the child was spending the night with her mother.

"Ms Barnes then managed to squeeze through a tiny gap in her bedroom window, lower herself on to an outhouse roof, and jump down into the yard behind the house."

Ms Barnes told the court she received a phone call from Smart after one of the earlier firers which she interpreted as him telling her he had started it.

"I told him 'Alan, what you done'," said Ms Barnes.

"He was just laughing at us down the phone, he was letting us know he'd done it."

The house in Princess Road was severely damaged.

Smart is alleged to have started a less serious fire in the doorway of another house in Seaham occasionally occupied by Mr Baker.

Smart and another man are alleged to have used a sports sock soaked in petrol to ignite petrol Smart poured over Baker's Audi, causing damage to the front of the car.

The two less serious fires are alleged to have been started on consecutive days in December, 2011, and the Princess Road fire is alleged to have been started in April of the following year.

To travel to each of the fires prosecutors claim Smart used cars which were made to look like taxis with the addition of taxi roof signs and stolen taxi licence plates.

"These are known in criminal circles as 'stunt cars'," said Mr Makepeace.

"Their purpose is to enable the occupants to drive around without arousing any suspicion."

Smart, 39, of Shrewsbury Crescent, Humbledon, Sunderland, denies arson on December 23 and 24, both 2011, and he denies arson with intent to endanger life on April 29, 2012.

He declined to give evidence in his own defence.

Robert Woodcock QC, defending Smart, told the jury his client was a 'nasty thug' who had been to prison, but was not an arsonist.

Roberts, 54, of Sorley Street, Millfield, Sunderland, denies arson with intent to endanger life on April 29, 2012.

Roberts told the jury he had run errands for some of the parties involved in the case, including collecting drugs money, but he was not an arsonist.

"It's just not something I would do," he said.

The jury retired to consider its verdicts on Thursday morning.