‘Pyromaniac’ student set fire to college to avoid exam

Student given a suspended sentence after lawyer said there was no 'intent to harm' anyone

Student given a suspended sentence after lawyer said there was no 'intent to harm' anyone

14 Sep 2023, 16:48

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Images from Northumbria Police

A student has been given a 14-month suspended prison sentence after she admitted setting fires in two college bathrooms to avoid an exam.

Ozlem Firat pleaded guilty to one count of arson this week, following a court case at Newcastle Crown Court. The court heard that she set fire to toilet paper in two bathrooms at Newcastle College’s Parson’s building to avoid an exam on May 28, 2021.

No one was hurt in the incident.

The police report into the incident revealed text messages sent by Firat that day to a friend which talked about setting fires to avoid exams, in a case first reported by local newspaper The Chronicle.

She also said she had a “fascination with fire” and “excitement at watching bodies burn” in her texts. Sophie Allinson-Howells, Firat’s defence lawyer, said she accepted the incident was “self-destructive” and “doubtless caus[ed] risk” to other people, but that there was no “intent to harm” anyone. She also said Firat has a personality disorder and that the episode “marked a crisis point for her mental health”.

A security guard was called to the building, the court heard, at around 9:50 am after they got a radio message about a fire in the third-floor bathroom. Security found teachers in the bathroom “in the process of tackling the fire by spreading water”, prosecutor Joe Culley told the court.

CCTV footage revealed that Firat, who was 21 at the time of the incident, was the last person in the bathroom before the fire.

Culley said Firat then “denied” setting the fire at the time but later found matches and a lighter during a search of her bag. She was allowed to complete the exam, and the incident did not lead to any exam delays, FE Week understands.

Firat later described herself as a “pyromaniac” to police, according to The Chronicle.

‘It was a matter of luck that nobody was hurt’

On the same day as the incident the security guard was told about another fire in the sixth-floor bathroom, which Culley said started “around the same time” as the first fire, before Firat went to complete the exam.

“[The fires] had been started by toilet paper being set alight,” Culley added.

The CCTV footage also showed Firat had changed clothes before going from the first to the second bathroom. The second fire burnt itself out, according to Allinson-Howells.

The court heard the total cost of the repairs and the cleaning was more than £7,000.

Firat was described in pre-sentence reports as getting feelings of euphoria when setting fires, and did not think about the consequences of her actions when feeling euphoric. The report also identified “disturbing childhood behaviour over a number of years”.

Firat pleaded guilty and was sentenced to 14 months, suspended for two years, and a four-month curfew, between 8pm and 8am with an electronic tag.

Court recorder Caroline Sellars said she had seen the pictures of the damage and that it was “a matter of luck rather than judgement that nobody was hurt, that the damage was not more serious”.

A spokesperson for Newcastle College said the safety of their students and staff is their “top priority” and that they consider the campus to be a “safe and secure place for all of our community”.

“Incidents of this nature are extremely rare and we responded swiftly to identify this individual,” the spokesperson added.

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