North East Wales

Prestatyn family fire murders: Melanie Smith jailed for 30 years

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Media caption"Five life sentences gave the families what they had wanted all along"

A woman who began a fire which killed five members of a neighbouring family must serve a minimum of 30 years.

Mother-of-five Melanie Smith, 43, set Lee-Anna Shiers' pushchair alight in a row over a shared hallway.

Ms Shiers, 20, her nephew Bailey, four, niece Skye, two, partner Liam Timbrell, 23, and son Charlie, 15 months, died after becoming trapped in an upstairs flat in Prestatyn, Denbighshire.

At Mold Crown Court Smith was given five life terms for the murders.

Smith wept as the sentence was passed by the judge, Mr Justice John Griffith Williams, who called her action "exceptional wickedness, almost unparalleled in its consequences".

'Hatred'

The judge said the "root cause" of Smith's offending was hatred of another woman, Samantha Schofield. She was motivated by jealousy due to her faltering relationship with Stephen Clarkson, whom she claimed had cheated on her with Ms Schofield.

"That hatred, which was all the more intense because of your drink problem, took over your life," the judge said.

After the sentence, Steve Allen, the father of Bailey and Skye and brother of Ms Shiers, said justice had been served.

"Nothing will ever bring any of our family back to us but Melanie Smith will now be given what she deserves," he said.

Mr Allen fought back tears and had to pause for a moment to compose himself as he continued: "Today is the first step towards grieving for our family. It still doesn't feel real.

Image caption The fire victims, clockwise from left: Liam Timbrell; Lee-Anna Shiers and her son Charlie; her niece Skye and nephew Bailey

"Every day that goes by we wish things had turned out differently on October 19, 2012 so my babies and my nephew Charlie would still be here, happy playing and growing and at least we would be able to hear them laughing like they did every day.

"Lee-Anna, Liam, Charlie would still be growing as a young family but instead a despicable person has taken it all away."

Ms Shiers's father and the children's grandfather, Peter Shiers, also said justice was now served and "all our little angels could now rest in peace".

Communal hallway

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Media captionVictims' family members welcome sentence

Mr Timbrell's mother Stephanie Watson said: "This has been a long, painful road for the families and while nothing can ever bring back any of our children or grandchildren from this terrible tragedy, there is some comfort in knowing that justice has been done, although no sentence can ever reflect the severity of the crime."

Smith was convicted last week of the five murders and of threatening to burn Ms Schofield's home.

During her trial, the jury heard that Smith was in dispute with Ms Shiers because the young mother-of-one left her son's pushchair in the downstairs communal hallway at the property where they both lived in flats.

Smith had previously made threats that she would set Ms Shiers' house on fire "with you and [your] kids in it".

On the day of the fire Smith drank 10 alcoholic drinks and set fire to the pushchair using a lighter. Ms Shiers and her family became trapped in their upstairs flat.

Image caption Melanie Smith wept as the sentence was passed by the judge

Neighbours in Maes y Groes made desperate attempts to rescue the family but were driven back by the fire's intensity and heat.

Ms Shiers and her young nephew and niece Bailey and Skye died in the fire, her son Charlie the next day, and partner Mr Timbrell three weeks later in hospital.

Before he died, Mr Timbrell told a paramedic Smith was responsible.

While giving evidence, Smith said she wanted to take a lie detector test and accused 21 witnesses who testified against her of lying.

'Lovely bubbly girl'

After the guilty verdicts, Ms Shiers' parents, Joy and Peter, said they were "overjoyed".

Paying tribute to her family at the time, Mrs Shiers, 45, said: "Anna was such a lovely, bubbly girl and Liam a very caring dad. Both of them were heroes because we know they would have done everything to rescue the children.

Image caption The flat's living room after the fire

"The three kiddies loved each other, they played together all the time. They were our angels. Really, really nice people that will be missed."

Her defence counsel said there were two mitigating circumstances: her previous good history and no previous convictions for involvement with fire. Her defence also said there was no compelling evidence that Smith was aware Skye and Bailey Allen were in the flat the night of the fire.

After sentencing, Karen Dixon from the Crown Prosecution Service said Smith's actions were carried out with "no regard whatsoever for the consequences".

"At no stage has she chosen to take responsibility for those five lives so tragically lost because of her actions," she said.

"Today's sentencing at least ensures she has to face up to that responsibility in a criminal court."

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