Mum who blew up Wallington flat avoids jail
A woman whose botched suicide attempt blew the side off a block of flats has avoided a prison sentence.
Karen Queen, 35, had intended to kill herself when she left her gas cooker on and took prescription pills before going to bed on April 8 last year.
But when she woke up the next day she forgot what she had done and lit a cigarette, igniting the escaped gas and causing an explosion that destroyed an entire exterior wall of her top floor flat in Morton Close, Roundshaw.
Queen, who has a history of depression, was severely burned in the explosion and spent four months recovering in hospital. Five neighbours had to flee the building before firefighters arrived.
Queen, who had a previous conviction for causing criminal damage by fire, was originally charged with arson with intent to endanger life.
She pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of arson on June 18, the day her trial was due to start.
Sentencing her on Friday for the lesser offence, judge Ruth Downing said she was satisfied Queen, who was wearing bandages in court from ongoing skin grafts for her burns, had not intended to cause the explosion or harm anyone else.
She said Queen was not a "fire-starter" and had been left "befuddled" by the drugs she had taken and had forgotten about leaving the gas on before lighting the cigarette.
Judge Downing told her: "As a society we are understandably very worried that people use the potentially lethal weapon (of fire), but you pleaded guilty to a simple charge of effectively causing criminal damage."
She sentenced Queen, now of Elgin Road, Wallington, to a three year community order with a requirement for mental health treatment, saying she had changed her mind about giving her a prison sentence.
Moments after the explosion, a horrified neighbour saw a semi-naked and badly burned Queen coming down the stairs.
Fire examiners told police that the explosion on the top floor of the three-storey block could have endangered anyone who may have been in the garden of the property at the time.
Speaking in the days after the explosion, Jo Whittal, who lives next door with her three teenage children, said she feared for their lives when she realised what had happened.
She said: "The fireman told us that if the explosion had blown sideways rather than backwards, it would've have blown straight through my daughter's bedroom."
The explosion left debris in the gardens surrounding the property.
The court heard a firefighter had spoken to Queen in the aftermath of the explosion, and she had explained she had taken the pills and left the oven door open and the gas on to kill herself.
Steven Attridge, prosecuting, said: "In her police interview miss Queen stated ‘I tried to kill myself it just went a bit wrong.’"
She had been struggling with depression, especially after her son was adopted away, the court heard.