Man targeted stepfather after falling out over cider bottle

Matthew Lewis Gell.

A man who targeted his stepfather in an arson attack after they fell out over a bottle of cider has been jailed for over two years.

Matthew Gell, 23, who was high on drugs, started a fire outside the victim’s flat in Thirsk by using petrol to douse tissue in a plastic bottle. He then sent the victim a text and voicemail message saying: “I hope you can smell that outside your door.”

Mercifully, the fire alarm was activated, and his stepfather put the fire out by stamping on it, York Crown Court heard.

Recorder Taryn Turner said the fire had the “potential for fatal consequences” for all the tenants inside the three-storey block of flats and jailed Gell for two years and four months.

Prosecutor Mike Greenhalgh said that Gell, from Thirsk but of no fixed address, made his move at about 12.50am on November 17 last year after a “disagreement” with the named victim over “the sharing of a bottle of a cider”.

He and his stepfather had been drinking together but following the argument, Gell went to his grandfather’s house, got a plastic bottle, some tissues and an accelerant and returned to the apartment block, where he started a fire outside his stepfather’s top-floor flat by lighting the paper inside the bottle.

He was arrested later that same day and taken into custody where he made immediate admissions, telling officers: “I set my (stepdad’s) house on fire and you’d better not let me out or I’ll kill him.”

He was charged with arson with intent to endanger life. He admitted the offence and appeared for sentence on Friday, June 14, after being remanded in custody.

The court heard that Gell had a police caution to his name for a previous arson offence in 2021. He also had a previous conviction for damaging property.

His solicitor advocate Neil Cutte said the arson victim was the former partner of Gell’s mother. Gell had looked upon him as a father but had “mixed feelings” about him.

After the relationship ended, Gell started using drugs and was living with the victim for a while. On the day in question, Gell had consumed “quite large amounts” of cocaine and alcohol.

He said that Gell’s previous caution for arson was for “setting fire to some hay bales because he was bored”.

Recorder Mrs Turner said although there was a “low level” of damage caused by the fire at the apartment block, it was “the potential for the harm that could have been caused that causes the court considerable disquiet”.

She said there was a “significant risk” that Gell’s actions could have led to “serious harm” to others “who would have been at home, no doubt asleep at that hour in the morning”.

She added: “The fact is, what you did that night had the potential to cause fatal consequences.”

Gell was handed a 28-month jail sentence but will only serve half of that behind bars before being released on prison licence.