A PENSIONER convicted of killing two friends by torching the cottage where they slept has mounted an Appeal Court bid to overturn his murder convictions.

James Cox, 67, claims his trial was unfair because he was in no fit state to make a decision when asked by his lawyers whether he wished to go into the witness box and testify.

When grappling with this decision, he had just heard the news of his own brother’s death, Lord Justice McCombe told London’s Appeal Court.

Cox has been granted permission to appeal his convictions for the murders of Howard Blake, 51, and Sian Sanchez, 36, who died in the blaze at Redbridge Cottage, in Old Abingdon Road, Oxford.

Lord Justice McCombe, sitting with Mr Justice Foskett and Mr Justice Eder, ordered a full hearing of the appeal, also directing that witnesses should testify as to Cox’s state of mind at the time.

Cox was jailed for life at Oxford Crown Court in October 2008 after he was convicted of double murder, committed in 2007. He was ordered to serve a minimum of 20 years behind bars.

The prosecution claimed he sparked the fire while spurred on by a jealous rage against the two victims, who had been his closest friends. At trial, his lawyers said he had no memory of starting the fire, was “extremely drunk” at the time and living rough on the streets of Oxford.