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‘When we saw the black smoke, we feared the worst’ — Perth flat blaze sparked heroic rescue effort for 76-year-old firestarter

Malcolm Wilson

A fed-up Perth pensioner who set fire to his own flat because he thought people were laughing at him has been spared a prison sentence.

Malcolm Wilson, 76, deliberately started a blaze in the bedroom of his Feus Road flat, believing the world was against him.

When thick black smoke began billowing from his ground-floor property, his worried neighbours risked their own lives to rescue him.

They used tools to break down his front door and search around his smoke-filled flat.

The neighbours were unaware that after starting the fire, Wilson had left his home, locked up and went to sit in a nearby graveyard.

He called police from there and later stated: “I have been waiting for you.”

One resident said: “Everyone was worried sick about him.

“When we saw the black smoke, we feared the worst.”

Blaze caused £15k of damage

Wilson, who has since moved to Leicester, appeared at Perth Sheriff Court, having admitted wilfully setting fire to bedding at his flat on April 5, last year.

The blaze took hold and caused about £15,000 worth of damage.

The scene of the fire in Feus Road, Perth

A solicitor for Wilson said: “He is 76 years old and he has never been in trouble before.

“This was a particularly serious offence which caused a significant amount of damages.

“He is aware that the consequences could have been a lot worse.

“This was a more than rash act and it has had a detrimental effect on Mr Wilson going forward.”

Sheriff Craig McSherry told Wilson: “Although this was a serious offence, I take into account that you are a first offender at an age of 76.”

He placed Wilson on supervision for 20 months, describing the sentence as a “direct alternative to custody”.

Worried residents

After sentencing, neighbours spoke of their shock as the fire engulfed Mr Wilson’s property and threatened others in the block.

One resident said: “It was tea-time and I could smell a strong smell of smoke.

“I thought someone had burned their dinner.

“Then I looked out and saw clouds of thick, black smoke coming from the front of the building.

“People were out in the street.

“They were really worried about him because he was nowhere to be found.”

Another neighbour said: “It was a relief that he was found safe and well.

“People were more relieved than angry.”

‘I have been waiting for you’

Fiscal Michael Sweeney told the court Wilson was renting the flat at the time.

“A neighbour was in his home at about 5.30pm when the fire alarm went off.

“He went out into the communal close and started banging on the front door of the accused’s home.

“There was no answer from within.”

The court heard residents managed to get the door open using tools.

“Inside, they noticed flames coming from the bedroom.

“Satisfied that there was no one in the flat, they went back outside and waited for the fire brigade.”

Waiting for police in graveyard

Another witness spotted Wilson sitting in the cemetery.

“He went to Wilson and told him that his flat was on fire,” Mr Sweeney said.

Police attended at the property and were told by a fire inspector the blaze appeared to have been started deliberately.

Officers saw a burnt hole in the carpet, along with severe smoke damage to the walls.

At about 6.20pm, Wilson phoned police from the graveyard.

He told them where he was and said he had set his home on fire.

When officers arrived, he said: “I have been waiting for you.”

He added: “I set my flat on fire because I am sick of people laughing at me.”

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