Serial Sunderland arsonist jailed for life

Susan Cooper.
Susan Cooper.

A serial arsonist has been jailed for life to stop her putting public safety at risk by starting fires.

Susan Cooper ignited a blaze in her living room while her house guest was asleep on June 9 and caused the whole building to be evacuated.

Newcastle Crown Court heard the 43-year-old has served prison sentences and been branded a "danger" in the past for earlier arson attacks.

Judge Tim Gittins has now told her she poses such a risk to the public that only a sentence of life imprisonment is appropriate in her case.

The court heard Cooper had invited a homeless friend into her bedsit, which was one in a block of six, at Thornhill Gardens, off Tunstall Road, Sunderland, so he could use her facilities and have a proper rest in June.

But, after a disagreement, she set fire to his sleeping bag while he slept in her bed and then left the property.

Prosecutor David Crook told the court: "He described waking to the sound of the fire alarms in the building and went into the living room.

"He found his sleeping bag was on fire and was able to extinguish it.

"The fire brigade turned up.

"The defendant was no longer in the flat.

"Others were required to leave their accommodation because of the fire, for a short period."

The court heard Cooper, who served jail sentences for arson attacks in residential properties in 2000 and 2002, handed herself in to the police and told them "i'm going to do life for this".

Judge Tim Gittins said nobody was physically hurt in the latest blaze although Cooper's house guest may have suffered psychological damage.

The judge added: "It could so easily have been different.

"It is not the damage that was done but the risk of what could have happened and the fact that he and others could have perished in the fire you had set in your drunken state.

"There is risk here to more than one life and no proper alert by you to the emergency services.

"He was asleep and you knew it."

Judge Gittins concluded Cooper poses "more than a significant risk of serious harm to others by the setting of fires" and added: "I am satisfied, at this stage, that your offence, coupled with your previous convictions, is so serious that only a sentence of life imprisonment is appropriate."

Judge Gittins said Cooper must serve a minimum term of two years but warned she will only be released if and when the parole board consider her to be safe.

David Lamb, defending, said Cooper has been in no trouble since her last arson conviction in 2002.

The court heard she had a "difficult and disturbing upbringing" and has resorted to drink and drugs to cope with her resulting personality disorder.

Cooper had been jailed for two years in 2000 for starting a fire in a laundry bag at a hostel.

She was sentenced to four years, with a two year extended licence period, in 2002 for an arson attack at her uncle's flat.