Man who posed as hero for saving neighbour from fire caught on CCTV starting it

Shocking footage shows an arsonist posing as a hero after he set a house on fire, causing a woman to fracture her spine as she desperately hurled herself out an upstairs window to escape the flames.

Robert Barnett, 30, told police he ran to save the victim when he ‘heard her screaming’ after her house caught alight in Sunderland.

But CCTV footage uncovered his web of lies as it showed him going in and out of his neighbour’s upstairs flat on Whitehall Terrace in the moments leading up to the incident.

Barnett, wearing just boxer shorts, was seen running out of his house and calling 999 just before midnight in August 2019.

He then returned to his downstairs flat to put on what he believed were fire resistant trousers and ran up the stairs of the burning property with a quilt.

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The defendant suffered burns to his feet and hands before he was forced by fierce flames to turn back. 

The victim had already jumped from an upstairs window by this point. She experienced significant injuries and her health has deteriorated since, police said.

A video from the night shows Barnett lying in an ambulance, telling medics: ‘I heard an alarm going off and heard someone screaming, my neighbour.

‘I ran outside to have a look to see what going on and I seen the flames literally through the front door, her front door was open.

‘I could see flames all the way up the stairs, I could hear her screaming.

‘I ran back into my house, I put these pants on because I knew they were fire resistant, and I ran back out and tried to run up the stairs to help her.’

He continued: ‘I got up to the top of the stairs and thought I’d open two doors, I was shouting “where are you?”

‘She kept shouting “I’m here”, I couldn’t see, and I started running down the stairs and the quilt was up in flames.’

The arsonist initially denied involvement after CCTV showed him going into his neighbour’s flat before the fire.

He finally admitted arson being reckless as to whether life is endangered this week and was convicted at Newcastle Crown Court. He is due to be sentenced at the same court on July 12.

Detective Sergeant David Vincent, of Northumbria Police, said: ‘Barnett tried to convince everybody that he was the hero, who was willing to sacrifice his own safety in a bid to rescue his neighbour who he believed to be trapped upstairs.

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‘But his account was built on lies – knowing full well that he was the one who had lit the flame and caused the significant blaze that had engulfed the property.’

He added that Barnett faces ‘a significant jail term’ after the victim’s ‘horrifying experience’.

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