A FOWEY family knew their babysitter and friend – accused of setting fire to their home – had previous arson convictions, a court has heard.
Fleur Wyndham-Grey, of Fore Street, Polruan, is accused of damaging two properties by fire, one in Polruan and another in Fowey.
The 57-year-old appeared at Truro Crown Court this week where she faces charges that, on January 3 last year, she damaged by fire the home of her neighbours in Fore Street, Polruan – Christine King and Professor David Jenkins – with intent to destroy or damage the property or being reckless as to whether it would be damaged or destroyed.
She is also charged with damaging by fire on May 13 last year the Old Library in Fore Street, Fowey, owned by Katherine and Tom Varcoe, intending to damage or destroy the property and intending to endanger the lives of three children.
Katherine Varcoe told the court earlier this week that Wyndham-Grey had told her “she had been in prison for accidentally setting her parents’ house on fire”.
She said: “I had known about it for a couple of years. She said an ashtray on the sofa had caught fire and it was accidental.
“I thought that if anyone had had that sort of accident with those consequences then they would not have that sort of accident ever again.”
Mrs Varcoe said that her husband Tom was in London when she asked Wyndham-Grey, a friend for eight years, to babysit that evening to enable her to go out for a meal with friends.
Wyndham-Grey had lived next to Mrs Varcoe’s home in Fore Street, Fowey, before moving to live in Fore Street, Polruan. She was a frequent guest and often looked after her children.
Earlier this week the court heard that Wyndham-Grey – who said that from the age of 12 or 13 she had suffered from bouts of depression – had been jailed in 2001 and 2003 for arsons in Blandford, Dorset, and Penzance.
David Evans, for the prosecution, said that Wyndham-Grey denied responsibility for the fire in 2000 in her parents’ Dorset home, but then subsequently pleaded guilty to arson.
She also denied being responsible for a fire in Penzance in 2002 but later admitted starting the blaze and being reckless as to whether life was endangered.
On Wednesday. she took to the stand to deny the charges.
Fern Russell, for the defence, suggested to the final prosecution witness, fire officer David Rawlings, that when he examined the bedroom in the Old Library in Fore Street, Fowey, the day following the fire in May of last year, that he had advised Mrs Varcoe to discard remnants of fireworks.
There was no discussion with her about whether the remnants would affect any insurance claim.
Mr Rawlings said he knew Tom and Katherine Varcoe but he did not socialise with them. He had not seen any tobacco or fireworks in the bedroom.
Wyndham-Grey told the court on Wednesday she had moved to Fowey in 2004 and had told her landlady of her previous convictions.
Between 2007 and 2008 she moved into a Polruan cottage next to Professor Jenkins and Miss King.
The trio became friends and she was given a key to their home to keep an eye on it while they were away.
Wyndham-Grey said: “They were very kind to me and when I sorted out a leaking roof they sent me a case of expensive wine,” she said.
“At Christmas, they left me sacks of logs with decoration tags on them. When my dog died they allowed the body to be buried in their garden.”
The court heard Wyndham-Grey was a regular drinker from the age of 30 while living in London, which spiralled into an alcohol problem in the late 1980s.
She sought help in 1993 when she booked herself into rehab for nine months.
She was a smoker but had always been extremely careful to ensure that she had extinguished her cigarettes, the court heard.
Asked by Judge Christopher Harvey-Clark, QC, about her income while living in Polruan, Wyndham-Grey said she had only basic social security and housing benefits.
The trial will continue on Tuesday, having been adjourned on Wednesday of last week.