STARTING a fire in a family home has landed a law student with an 18-month prison sentence.

A three-year-old child and four adults were inside a house in West End, Witney, when 19-year-old Toby Abbey set light to coats in a hallway.

The Chester University law student started the blaze as he was leaving the property, but a taxi driver noticed the fire and alerted the house’s occupants, who were both burned while struggling to put it out.

Abbey, of Blakes Avenue, Witney, pleaded guilty to arson being reckless as to whether the life of another would be endangered.

The incident happened on July 1 this year, at around 4.30am, when he was part of a group of friends who returned to a flat after an evening out drinking.

Speaking in Oxford Crown Court on Thursday prosecutor Sandra Beck said: “It is not entirely clear what led to the woman who lived in the flat asking this defendant to leave shortly after their return home.

“The woman’s partner and three-year-old child were asleep in the front room at the time.

“It would appear on going out through the hallway there are coats hanging on a rail.

“It is a fairly narrow hallway and as he approached he set fire to the coats.”

She said that Abbey had fled the scene and hid in a nearby back garden, but was apprehended by police at around 7am.

After initially lying about his involvement he called Thames Valley Police back and confessed.

The prosecutor said: “He felt she had flirted with him, he then became angry when he thought she had transferred her flirting to the taxi driver.

“The reasoning he gave was just that he wanted to scare the occupants by creating some smoke and setting the smoke alarm off.

“However, having done so the fire took hold quicker than he had anticipated and he made the decision to run away from it.”

The young woman burned her hand throwing the coats out the door and her partner received burns to his foot from dripping melted plastic.

Passing sentence Judge Mary Jane Mowat said Abbey had a spotless record, a loving family and was clearly filled with remorse for what he had done – but she could not spare him jail.

She said: “This is the sort of case that no judge ever wants to have to deal with – where a young man of just 19 has committed an act of the most immense folly.

“Like so many young people in the gap year between school and university you were clearly drinking too much – and you were clearly drinking too much on the night of this offence.”