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Insurance company accuses Brighton couple of 'hissy fit' arson
12:24pm Tuesday 18th September 2012 in News
A Brighton man has won a legal battle over an insurance company’s refusal to pay up for a fire it claimed was deliberately started by his partner.
St Andrew’s Insurance said the blaze at Jonathan Smyth and Tony Howe’s home in Margaret Street, Kemp Town, was linked to Mr Howe’s “hissy fits”.
But the High Court yesterday agreed with the couple that the blaze, which killed their three cats, was an accident.
Ruling today in favour of Mr Smyth – who is claiming around £300,000 – solely on the issue of liability, Deputy Judge John Randall said the insurers had not satisfied him that the fire was started by Mr Howe.
He said it was more likely than not that it was started accidentally by a lit cigarette carelessly discarded or accidentally dislodged by Rebecca Alexander, who rented the basement room in the four-storey terrace.
Ms Alexander made accusations against Mr Howe which led to him being arrested, before he was bailed without charge and told he was not to be prosecuted.
She agreed she was a messy person and the state of her room that evening, strewn clothing, discarded tissues and a highly flammable bed cover, made it a serious fire hazard.
The judge said she was tired from her shift as a care worker in a children’s home and agitated from a shouting match started by Mr Howe about the messy kitchen. She would often go out having left the hob on, he added.
The judge said: “It would not be surprising if a naturally careless person such as Ms Alexander, in the stressful circumstances in which she found herself that evening, had either carelessly discarded, or accidentally dislodged without noticing, a lit cigarette.”
The judge said Mr Howe, who was 37 at the time, sometimes had tantrums, or “hissy fits”, which were in the nature of attention-seeking behaviour rather than being dangerous or destructive.
Information security manager Mr Smyth, now of Cooperage Quay, Stirling, Scotland, affectionately called them “Tony Bear tantrums”.
The judge said Mr Howe’s firm denial of arson had been convincing.