Girvan pensioner admonished for starting house fire

Sydney Galloway and Margaret Leadbetter were helped to safety from the badly damaged house in Dalrymple Street, Girvan.
Sydney Galloway and Margaret Leadbetter were helped to safety from the badly damaged house in Dalrymple Street, Girvan.

An 84 year old man who set fire to his home because he could not cope with his partner’s failing health has been admonished.

Sydney Galloway admitted wilfully setting the fire in the house in Dalrymple Street, Girvan, on 26 November last year to the danger of the life of his partner Margaret Leadbetter.

Lady Rae told the High Court in Glasgow that Galloway had committed a very serious offence and risked the lives of other but she had taken his personal circumstances into account when passing sentence.

Both Galloway and his then partner Margaret Leadbetter (84) had to be rescued from the house they share in Girvan, as fire engulfed it on November 26 last year.

Galloway later confessed to medical staff that he had started the fire.

Prosecutor Allan Nicol told the court: “He explained that he was under pressure with Mrs Leadbetter’s worsening condition and was struggling to cope.

“He also said he wanted to die and take her with him.”

The judge said: “I have already indicated that in this particular case, despite the serious nature of the offence, custody is not the right route and would not serve justice, in particular circumstances put before me.

“I have thought very carefully about what alternatives are available to me but I have to have regard to your particular personal circumstances.”

“In the very unusual circumstances of this case in my view the proper disposal is an admonition, you are free to go.”

Mr Nicol previously told the court that Galloway put timber and furniture behind an inner door of the house and then poured petrol in the living room and hallway and lit a match.

At 7am a paper boy saw smoke coming from the house and raised the alarm. The teenager also flagged down a couple of passing motorists who knocked on the door and got no reply.

They eventually managed to force their way in through the outside door but found an inner front door hallway blocked.

The court heard that when police spoke to Ms Leadbetter she was confused and unable to recall anything about the incident. She suffered minor burns in the fire but later broke her hip after a fall in Glasgow Royal Infirmary.

Galloway suffered burns to his back, buttocks and both feet.

During a police interview Galloway said that he was struggling to cope with looking after Ms Leadbetter and doing all the household tasks.

He told them: “I doused the living room and hallway with petrol and set it alight using a match.

“Before I’d set it on fire I took sleeping tablets. Maybe about five or that and a good half tumbler of whisky. It was enough to make me do what I done.”

He said he wanted to kill 
himself, but did not want to kill his partner, although he knew she was in the house at the time.

Defence counsel Tony Lenehan said the “extraordinary and unrepeatable” case ended the elderly couple’s 25-year relationship.