Ramsgate dad Derek Gale jailed for setting fire to house with girlfriend Donna Gray and their children inside
Derek Gale has been jailed for seven years
A father whose young child had to be rescued from a smoke-filled house after he set fire to it during a row with his partner has been jailed for seven years.
Derek Gale told girlfriend Donna Gray she would not get out alive before putting a lighter to curtains in the living room of their home in Boundary Road, Ramsgate.
The mother managed to flee the terraced house with their two children aged five and two and neighbour Nicola Harris went into thick acrid smoke using a torch on her mobile phone to rescue the one-year-old boy from an upstairs bedroom.
Her bravery earned her a commendation from a judge, who said he would consider recommending her for a High Sheriff's award.
Gale, 28, was convicted of arson being reckless as to whether life was endangered and cleared of the more serious charge of arson with intent to endanger life.
He denied both charges, claiming it was Miss Gray who started the blaze.
Maidstone Crown Court heard the couple's eight-year relationship had become strained. On March 30 this year they had argued and were not speaking.
Miss Gray took the two older children to an Easter egg hunt, leaving Gale to look after the youngest, who was not well.
The case was heard at Maidstone Crown Court
Prosecutor Alex Rooke said when Miss Gray returned, the argument continued and there was discussion about one of them leaving.
Gale, who had been drinking, soon afterwards picked up his lighter and torched the curtain in a bay window.
"While this fire isn't up there with the Great Fire of London, the great problem is the smoke," said Mr Rooke. "The curtains seem to have gone up fairly fast.
"Donna Gray grabbed the two oldest children and ran into the street. Neighbours came out of their houses and doused the flames until firemen arrived.
"Nicola Harris ran into the thick black smoke upstairs to get the child out of bed, down the stairs and out."
"Neighbours came out of their houses and doused the flames until firemen arrived..." - Alex Rooke, prosecuting
Gale was acting strangely. He eventually grabbed the burning curtains and threw them outside. He then went to his parents' house and declared: "I have set fire to the house."
Passing sentence, Judge Charles Macdonald QC said: "The fire took hold relatively rapidly. Afterwards, you left the scene without making any effort to assist Donna Gray or the children."
Lucy Luttman, defending, said the three children had been taken into care and were likely to be adopted.
She said Gale had been drinking since the age of 15 and it increased when he met Miss Gray.
"The both drank to excess, although it reduced after they had children," she said. "The last seven months of abstinence while in custody would be of benefit to him.
"Clearly, alcohol had an impact on him. It could have affected his reasoning at the time. There was one point of ignition and it was done in plain view of Miss Gray, giving her the opportunity to get out.
"The children all got out safely. This was hugely unpleasant for them. He will have to live with his regret of what he has done. He has now effectively lost his children.
"The local authority wants to have them adopted. Miss Gray has not shown any interest in them."
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