Fatal arson attack was NOT murder

09-1571-4''House fire on South Snape Rd Bulwell today
09-1571-4''House fire on South Snape Rd Bulwell today

A DRUNKEN teenager who killed a grandmother in a devastating arson attack in Bulwell has had his murder conviction quashed on appeal.

William Rowbotham was 18 when he torched the home on South Snape Close, in Snape Wood, on Thursday June 25 2009. Susie Southern (53) and her husband, Tony, were trapped inside.

Mr Southern tried to save his wife, who was screaming for help, but was beaten back by flames before having to flee the semi-detached building.

The damage was so severe to the house that Mrs Southern’s body couldn’t be retrieved for 36 hours.

A jury at Nottingham Crown Court found Rowbotham guilty of murder and arson with intent to endanger life. He was given a life sentence with a minimum prison-term of 14 years.

The court heard he had binged on vodka at a party before pushing wheelie-bins against the door of Mrs Southern’s house and filling them with wood to start the fire.

The attack appeared to be completely random and he didn’t know the victims, although Rowbotham previously lived in the Snape Wood area.

Now top judges at the Criminal Appeal Court in London have scrubbed the original verdicts, labelling them “unsafe”.

At the trial, the jury heard that Rowbotham had an IQ of just 67, which placed him in the bottom two per cent of the country. It classified him as having an intellectual disability.

It was revealed that he had a fascination with fire and told a psychologist he used to start blazes in local woodland before calling the fire brigade. As a child, he wanted to be a fireman so he could be “a hero”.

On the night he set fire at the Southerns’ home, he dialled 999 and admitted he was responsible.

Rowbotham, who is now 20, will undergo psychiatric reports before he is re-sentenced.

Allowing the appeal, Lord Justice Laws said the circumstances were “wholly exceptional”.

He said: “The appellant was an 18-year-old boy with an interest in fire. His mental capacity was extremely modest and he was very drunk on the night in question.

“In our judgment, arrived at not without considerable anxiety, this is a case which would have been right to invite the trial judge to stop the case after the defence expert’s evidence.”