Freckleton fire: Dyson Allen guilty of sibling deaths

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Media captionFamily liaison officer Iain McVittie reads a statement on behalf of the family

A teenager has been found guilty of manslaughter after starting a fire that killed four siblings in Freckleton, Lancashire.

Four-year-old twins Holly and Ella Smith and brothers Jordan, two, and Reece, 19, died on 7 January last year.

Dyson Allen, 19, of no fixed address, denied starting the fire in a bedroom wardrobe at the dormer bungalow.

He was convicted of four counts of manslaughter. Jurors at Preston Crown Court cleared him of murder.

The court heard all four siblings had died from the effects of smoke inhalation, with Reece succumbing to the smoke after going back into the fire to try and save his brother and sisters.

Image caption The four siblings died in the fire at their house in Freckleton in January last year

Investigators said the blaze was started inside a wardrobe in the children's bedroom of the house in Lytham Road, while their mother was downstairs celebrating her birthday.

The court heard that Allen, a family friend, was alone upstairs before the blaze.

After killing the siblings, he wrote messages to the Smith family on Facebook, describing Reece Smith as a hero for trying to save his brother and sisters.

Forensic experts told the jury the fire could not have been an accident and that a naked flame had been held against clothes in a wardrobe for a few seconds.

Allen did not tell the court or police why he set the fire and claimed in court that it had been started by a candle which had fallen over.

He admitted to the jury that he had started fires when he was younger.

The 19-year-old, who wept as the guilty verdicts were read out, will be sentenced in September.

'Eternally proud'

In a statement, the children's mother Michelle Smith and Reece's father Martin Goulding said they were "pleased" with the verdict and described the children as "beautiful".

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Media captionThe BBC's Ed Thomas looks at the background to the case

They said: "We'll never know the reason why our children were taken from us but even knowing the answer won't bring them back.

"He had the chance to explain his actions to the police and the court but he lied from the very beginning."

They said they wanted to "pay tribute to Reece who paid the ultimate price for trying to rescue his brother and sisters and for that we will be eternally proud".

Speaking after the verdict, Det Ch Supt Dermott Horrigan said the case was "one of the most tragic and significant cases" Lancashire Police had seen for years.

"Four innocent people died as a result of the actions of this man who has shown no remorse and lied throughout the investigation and court case," he said.

"There were plenty of opportunities for Dyson Allen to admit his guilt yet he persisted with his denial, causing the family even further anguish and the ordeal of not only having to sit through a trial but to stand up and give evidence as well."

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Media captionThe 999 call made by Dyson Allen after he set light to a bedroom wardrobe

The Crown Prosecution Service's Joanne Cunliffe said Allen's actions had been "truly wicked".

She said Reece's "act of bravery" was in "stark contrast to the cowardice shown by Allen, who has attempted to evade responsibility".

"Although today's result can in no way compensate the family and friends of Reece, Holly, Ella and Jordan, we can only hope the justice that these verdicts have delivered brings them some measure of comfort," she said.

Sentencing was adjourned until 27 September for the preparation of psychiatric reports.

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