The arsonist said to have started a fire so fierce it melted a thermostat claimed that the blaze was caused by a cigarette rolling off a chair.

Paul Glen’s explanation of how the fire that wiped through the terraced home in Chichester Close, Bicester, was at odds with the conclusion of a fire report.

The assessment of the fire expert was that the devastating blaze was most likely caused by a naked flame rather than a smouldering cigarette, Oxford Crown Court heard.

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So stark was the difference between the two accounts that Judge Nigel Daly adjourned the case for a week to establish whether another hearing was needed so a judge would hear evidence from the fire officer and decide the facts on which 48-year-old Glen would be sentenced.

Glen had been staying at the property in Chichester Close after he was thrown out of his own home.

On October 27 last year, firefighters from Bicester and Oxford's Rewley Road station were called to the house after reports of a large fire.

Prosecutor Cathy Olliver chronicled the scene of devastation that the fire crews encountered.

The whole property was smoke-logged. There was ‘considerable fire damage’ to a chair in the living room, which was said to be where the fire started and which was ‘completely destroyed’.

The fire was so hot that it had spread to other rooms, with items in the kitchen bursting into flames. A thermostat had also melted as a result of the scalding temperatures.

Glen, of no fixed address, pleaded guilty at an earlier hearing to arson being reckless as to whether life was endangered and theft.

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No formal basis of plea was entered by his lawyers, but the defendant told the author of a pre-sentence report that the fire was started by a cigarette.

On Wednesday, Judge Daly raised concerns about that account, as a result of the fire officer’s belief that the fire was more likely to have been caused by a naked flame.

And when Glen said from the dock that he just wanted to get the sentencing over with, the judge’s concerns grew.

He told Glen’s barrister: “I am reluctant, having said this in open court, to have any basis of plea other than that he has already said in open court to me.

“I’m not going to sentence people because they feel they want to get something over with, I want to [sentence on] what happened.”

The case was adjourned until Thursday, May 26, for further instructions to be taken by the defendant’s lawyers. 

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This story was written by Tom Seaward. He joined the team in 2021 as Oxfordshire's court and crime reporter.  

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