A DISTRAUGHT friend of murdered Newport teenager Nikitta Grender torched his home in a bid to die and be with her, a court was told. NATALIE CROCKETT reports.

THE best friend of murdered pregnant teenager Nikitta Grender set fire to his house while he was inside because he wanted to die to be with her, a court heard.

Luke Morgan, of Broadmead Park, started the fire after returning home from a night out in the early hours of October 18, 2012. An hearing at Newport Crown Court on November 1, heard Morgan was upset after recent arguments with his mother and started to feel down when looking at photos of Miss Grender, 19.

He later told police: “I don’t want to be here, I just want to be with Nikitta.”

Morgan, 21, lit a coat hanger using a cigarette lighter and put it in a recycling box, which ignited around 5.04am.

He planned to stay in the house, the court heard, but as the fire spread Morgan panicked and woke a neighbour who called emergency services.

The court was told Morgan was very upset by Miss Grender’s death and was fed up after arguing with his mum. The family dog, which was in the house at the time, died as a result of the blaze.

The fire was an “extensive one” and there was smoke damage throughout the house, particularly in the downstairs bedroom.

Asked by police if he wanted to kill himself, Morgan, who has previously taken anti-depressants, said yes, adding he “didn’t want to be here anymore”.

He later expressed remorse for his actions when he realised the blaze could have spread to other houses on the estate.

The court heard this was the second time he had set fire to the house, having been given a 12-month community order for arson in August 2011.

On that occasion he set fire to his bedroom curtains when his mother and young brother were in the house.

They all got out safely.

Morgan pleaded guilty to one count of arson, being reckless as to whether life would be endangered at a hearing at Newport Crown Court on Friday. He denied a second count of arson with intent to endanger life. This was accepted by the Crown Prosecution Service who said they did not wish to proceed to trial on the matter and asked for it to remain on Morgan’s file.

Sue Ferrier, defending, said doctors had assessed Morgan and had expressed significant concern about his mental state.

She said they were of the viewhe should be detained to a psychiatric unit rather than a prison, if the court imposed a custodial sentence.

The case was adjourned for sentencing until January 25, and Morgan was remanded in custody.

‘I’ll stand by him for Nikitta’

MISS Grender’s father Paul Brunnock, 40, told the Argus after a previous court hearing in November that he would stand by Morgan, just as his daughter would have wanted.

He said: “I have known Luke for a long time and they [he and Nikitta] were really close. What he has done is absolutely terrible but you just don’t know how things like this affect people.

“I didn’t like the fact that he said that [Miss Grender’s death] was why he did it, but I am there for him.

“At the end of the day he was a good friend of Nikitta’s and I think she would want me to be there for him.”

Murderer was branded ‘very dangerous’ by appeal judges

MISS Grender was raped and murdered by Carl Whant on February 5, 2011. Her unborn child Kelsey-May was also killed.

He then set fire to her home to cover his tracks and returned to a house party where her boyfriend and his cousin Ryan Mayes was and lied about where he had been.

Whant, 28, of Bettws, Newport, was jailed for life, with a minimum tariff of 35 years in March 2012.

He appealed against his sentence last November (2012), claiming it was too long and that the killing of Kelsey-May should not have been considered an aggravating factor. This was rejected by three high court judges who dubbed him “a very dangerous man”.

Morgan was a close family friend of Miss Grender and organised a collection following her death to buy a floral wreath.

He paid tribute to her at her funeral, recalling how the pair used to sing Britney Spears songs and spoke of how the mum-to-be had always been there for him when no-one else was. He told hundreds of mourners: “I’ll be thinking of you this year, next year and every year. We will never forget such a beautiful, fun-loving, up-for-everything girl like you. Can’t believe you have been taken away from us so soon.”

After Miss Grender’s death, Morgan had also appeared as a witness in a high-profile Newport trial after Richard Glyn Carslake, 48, was found dead at his flat in Jeddo Street, Pill, in April 2011.

Two men were later found guilty of Mr Carslake’s manslaughter and robbing him.