An Illogan man started a fire in his ex-partner's house which spread and burned down the homes of an elderly disabled woman and a mother and her daughter.

Zak Rodda, 32, of Bridge Road, set a mattress alight in his ex's house on May 14 after a drunken argument at a party, a court heard today.

He tried to put it out and called the emergency services after realising he had lost control of the situation, before going to a nearby pub where he was arrested.

The flames quickly spread to neighbouring terraced houses and devastated four of them.  

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The aftermath of the fire in May. Picture: Colin Higgs

Rodda pleaded guilty to arson and was sentenced to six years in prison at Truro Crown Court today.

At his sentencing, prosecutor Deni Matthews described how Rodda had been at a family gathering that day where family members later said he had "quite a lot to drink".

His former partner was at the party with him and they had had an argument.

Rodda then left the party and went to his ex-partner's house, where he used to live, and began sending her threatening text messages.

One text said: "Okay, no home to come back to. Now setting fire. Give you five minutes to reply."

In another text, Rodda said: "Look at the light. I warned you," and another: "Here she goes. Goodbye."

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Picture: Colin Higgs

Mr Matthews went on to say that Rodda's family members were told about the "disturbing" texts and rushed to the address to find him in the upstairs window where he told one of them he would set fire to the house.

Moments later, a blaze was started and quickly spread to neighbouring houses.

Mr Matthews described how one of the residents was an elderly woman with limited mobility, who was "fortunately attended by her care worker" and managed to escape unharmed.

Another neighbour, he said, lived in the house with her 10-year-old daughter.

In victim statements, the elderly woman described how she had lost her family home of 60 years, and the mother lost items such as family pictures and school reports and now has to share a room with her daughter.

Mr Matthews described how Rodda, having set fire to the building, left and went to a nearby pub where he was recorded as saying to another customer: "I've done something bad. I've set fire to a mattress, it got out of control."

Police came to the pub and he fled out of the back door before being arrested at about 5.45pm.

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Picture: Colin Higgs

Mr Matthews also mentioned that there was a history of controlling behaviour in Rodda's relationship with his ex-partner, which the defendant had admitted.

Defending Rodda, Brian Fitzherbert asked judge Simon Carr to take into account the fact that no accelerant was used to start the fire, that immediate attempts were made to put it out and that the perpetrator called the emergency services when he could not extinguish it himself.

He also asked judge Carr to consider the fact that it "was not a nighttime offence" and that his client "didn't know residents were in the houses".

Mr Fitzherbert also argued that there was "an element of bad luck" as "high winds caused the fire to spread quickly".

He added: "This offence was the result of drunken stupidity rather than vindictive malice."

The defence barrister said that Rodda had sought help from his GP for depression and suicidal thoughts two weeks before the incident, and that he was suffering mentally after the bereavement of his aunt, "to whom he was extremely close".

He added: "That bereavement had, frankly, an awful effect on him and caused him to behave in a way that was seriously out of character."

As for the element of controlling behaviour in the relationship, Mr Fitzherbert said: "This is not an offence committed on a background of domestic violence or serious abuse."

Mr Fitzherbert added that his client has good insight into the emotional harm his actions caused, and as a "hard-working builder" has a "sincere wish to rebuild the houses himself".

To conclude, the barrister said: "Mr Rodda's remorse and shock about the harm that he caused is genuine. When he first met my instructing solicitor he had no idea that the fire had spread beyond the bedroom.

"When he found out the level of damage he caused was a profound shock and remains to be. He was unlucky because of the wind, but lucky, of course, that nobody was killed."

Sentencing the man, Judge Simon Carr said: "What you did destroyed those four houses. There were people inside. They would have become aware and afraid. They all got out.

"One was elderly and disabled. She wouldn't have got out if her carer wasn't there. They all stood and watched their homes burn before them. Whether it will be possible to rebuild those houses is uncertain."

He went on to say: "People's lifetime possessions were destroyed. You did all of that to create an effect to prove you were in control, you were in charge. It was pathetic."

Judge Carr sentenced Rodda to six years imprisonment, of which he must serve at least half before being eligible for parole.

He was also given a statutory surcharge.