Bitter wife torched £400,000 family home to spite husband during divorce battle
An embittered wife who torched her £400,000 family home to spite her husband during a divorce has been jailed for almost three years.
Mum-of-three Janette Higginson, 57, rang police herself on June 11 to say the suburban house where she had lived for 36 years was on fire.
Firefighters rushed to the four-bedroom house in Firswood, near Chorlton-cum-Hardy in Manchester, to find her sitting outside covered in soot.
The court heard she had told police during the fire: ‘I’m not bothered, I am outside my house it’s burning, it’s up to you.’
Earlier that day, Higginson had received a solicitor’s letter thought to be regarding the sale of the home, which she had shared with Steve, her husband of 27 years.
It is thought that she started the fire using a lighter and a tin of furniture polish before making a failed attempt to douse the flames with water.
The fire ultimately caused £14,500 of damage the hallway and front room of the semi-detached house.
Meanwhile, Higginson’s immediate neighbours were forced to flee their home but were not injured and their house was not damaged.
Minshull Street Crown Court in Manchester heard that Higginson had been waging a bitter campaign against her neighbours, builder and in-laws following the collapse of her marriage.
The 57-year-old claimed she had been left out of a family will and made false accusations against relatives, the court was told.
Higginson admitted to arson and breaching a restraining order and was jailed for 34 months on Thursday.
Prosecutor Lisa Boocock told the hearing: ‘The defendant herself rang the police and stated her house was on fire. She said, “I’m not bothered, I am outside my house it’s burning, it’s up to you”.
Ms Boocock said: ‘It is a semi-detached house and she had lived there for some time with her husband and they were in the process of getting divorced. The defendant accepts it was a deliberate act out of frustration to some extent it was revenge because of the acrimonious divorce she was going through.
‘When the fire brigade attended the fire was in the downstairs front room and two firemen entered the house with breathing apparatus and found the defendant covered in soot sat outside clearly intoxicated.
‘Inside there were two sites of ignition with a lighter and furniture polish nearby but it’s unclear whether that was used in the fire.’
‘They found damage of about £14,500 caused to the house in the downstairs and front room. There was some damage in the hallway and smoke damage,’ Ms Boocock said, adding that the house seemed to be insured.
‘Mr Higginson is concerned the defendant has done this deliberately so he’s left with nothing.
‘They had a 27-year marriage which was plagued by both of them using alcohol and the defendant continued to abuse it – and he believes that’s been the cause of this. Mrs Higginson was taken to hospital with burns to her hands and smoke inhalation.
‘She made admissions to starting the fire and having a dispute with her ex-husband and was frustrated couldn’t sell the house.’
Higginson had already been made the subject of a restraining order after harassing Mr Higginson’s sister Tracey Dunphy following the passing of their father in 2018.
The court heard that she was angry her estranged husband had not received any inheritance money from his late father and would turn up uninvited at the home of Mrs Dunphy and her husband Michael and start ‘kicking off’.
The victims said their house was vandalised with scratch marks and Higginson had also smashed a wine bottle against their front door while shouting abuse at them from the street.
The court heard that she also harassed a builder who stopped construction work at her house due to her drunken behaviour. It is said she also attended at other addresses where he was working to shout at him.
At the court hearing, Higginson’s lawyer Emma Hassall offered little mitigation but at an earlier hearing, she said: ‘She had run a successful business and a family home but she lost her job and as a result turned to alcohol.
‘Her husband has left their home and removed all his belongings. He had stopped paying his part of the mortgage and she has cashed in her pension and made arrangements to pay half the mortgage.
‘She was initially able to keep the house and there was a lot of pressure on her from her husband wanting a divorce and wanting the house selling. There clearly are some issues with anxiety, stress and depression but in the main, it has been alcohol issues. They caused the breakdown of this relationship.’
Sentencing Higginson, Judge John Potter told her: ‘You are an intelligent woman but your behaviour on the afternoon and evening was nothing more or less than a disgrace. It was inspired throughout by self-indulgence and your continued wish to abuse alcohol.
‘Earlier that day you had received a solicitors letter in relation to your impending divorce from your husband and the content of the letter caused you distress.
‘Not for the first time in your life you decided to resort to consuming large quantities of alcohol to deal with this distress and you well knew it would turn you into a dangerous, destructive, violent, foul-mouthed menace.
‘I accept you have mental health difficulties and developed alcohol dependency but none of this properly excuses your appalling behaviour.’
Mr Potter said that Higginson also placed her neighbours, whose home was immediately attached to her property, at risk of serious harm.
He also said that she told police on the scene that she was ‘not bothered’ about what she had done.
Mr Potter said: ‘On arrest, your behaviour was described as erratic and aggressive and to put it bluntly that’s an understatement. Whilst at the hospital having care administered to you, you began screaming highly inappropriate language at the police officers falsely claiming you were being bullied.
‘This behaviour was at a time when our hospitals where placed under additional stress and strain with having to deal with the current pandemic.’
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