A NEWPORT woman has been jailed for five years after deliberately starting a fire in her flat and "endangering the lives" of her neighbours, including a mother and her six-month-old baby.

Some of Charlene Hodge's neighbours required oxygen treatment when they were evacuated from their homes in Fairoak Court, in the Maindee area of Newport, on March 17 last year.

The blaze had broken out in the block of 24 flats when Hodge, who had been drinking earlier that day, set fire to bedding in her flat, a fire investigation expert later concluded.

The hearing at Cardiff Crown Court was told there had been "clear problems" between Hodge and her neighbour - who had a six-month-old baby - for some time, and on the day of the fire that neighbour had heard "things being thrown" at the wall between her flat and Hodge's.

Tim Evans, prosecuting, said other neighbours had complained about Hodge's behaviour leading up to the fire that day.

Hodge had shouted that "some of [her neighbours] would be in body bags", Mr Evans added.


Hodge initially denied starting the fire deliberately, but later pleaded guilty to arson with intent to endanger life. The fire also caused around £3,700 of damage to property, the court was told.

Mr Evans said Hodge, 55, had gone to a neighbour, David Lively, after the building's fire alarms began to sound.

Mr Lively began to tackle the blaze with buckets of water until there was "so much black smoke... his lungs were aching [and his] eyes were full of soot," Mr Evans said.

South Wales Argus: Some of the damage caused by Charlene Hodge when she started a fire in her flat in Fairoak Court, Newport. Picture: Gwent PoliceSome of the damage caused by Charlene Hodge when she started a fire in her flat in Fairoak Court, Newport. Picture: Gwent Police

Meanwhile, Hodge's "obviously terrified" neighbour was trapped in her flat with her baby until firefighters arrived and rescued them.

When arrested, Hodge accepted there were "ongoing issues" and admitted drinking that day, Mr Evans said, adding that she had also expressed relief her neighbours had not been hurt.

Stuart John, defending, said Hodge had admitted a "plainly serious offence" but "had little or no recollection of the events".

Following her arrest, Hodge had returned to Fairoak Court for nine months "without further incident", he added.

South Wales Argus: Fairoak Court, in the Maindee area of Newport. Picture: GoogleFairoak Court, in the Maindee area of Newport. Picture: Google

His client had a "difficult upbringing" and "problems with alcohol" in adulthood, Mr John said, adding that Hodge "does want to make a change...[and] believes she can put her best foot forward in the long term".

Judge Richard Williams acknowledged Hodge's "very sad" upbringing but said her behaviour had been "harmful to [herself] and others" with "repeated episodes of anti-social behaviour".

"By any standard you were a problem tenant [and] ultimately you put lives at risk," he told the defendant, who appeared in court via videolink.

South Wales Argus: Charlene Hodge. Picture: Gwent PoliceCharlene Hodge. Picture: Gwent Police

The court heard Hodge had 48 prior convictions for 71 offences - none of which were for arson.

The judge said Hodge had "inexplicably" been released under investigation following her initial arrest for the incident, but was "to be regarded as a dangerous offender".

"The level of risk you pose if you use alcohol or drugs is very high," he told Hodge.

Judge Williams imposed an extended sentence, comprising a five-year custodial term and an extended licence period of three years.

He also praised the actions of Hodge's neighbour, Mr Lively, whom he called a "very brave man" for his attempts to extinguish the fire.