A TRAUMATISED former Wigan soldier who set fire to his home, due to the stress caused by seeing his friends die in an explosion in Iraq, is to be freed from prison after top judges ruled his was “an exceptional case”.
Terry Andrew McDonald, 25, of Trent Road, Norley, was jailed for two years at Liverpool Crown Court in December last year, after he admitted arson being reckless as to whether life is endangered.
But his lawyers argued the jail term was too long considering McDonald, who had served in Iraq and Afghanistan during eight years in the army, was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.
Three senior judges, sitting at London’s Court of Appeal, said McDonald was enduring “extreme survivor guilt” from his time in the Middle East, and the arson was “a cry for help.” They cut his prison term to one year, meaning he will be released in the next few days.
Mrs Justice Cox told the court McDonald had fought in Iraq and Afghanistan and, in 2007, while in Iraq, saw his best friend and his sergeant die when a vehicle he had just got out of exploded.
She said he had also had many other friends killed in action and, after coming out of the army in 2009, his friends and family had noticed his difficulty adjusting to everyday civilian life.
The court heard McDonald had not returned from a night out with his friends in September last year and his partner, Danielle Fairhurst, took their children to his mother’s house while she went out to look for him.
She later came back to find an angry McDonald back at their home, threatening to torch it. He twice put paper in the toaster and switched it on, but Miss Fairhurst extinguished the small fires and told him not to be stupid.
She left the house but shortly afterwards fire crews were called after McDonald started another blaze in the kitchen. The emergency services arrived to find his mother, who had attempted to put out the blaze herself, outside and McDonald in bed upstairs.
When firemen entered his smoke-filled bedroom, McDonald refused to leave and had to be restrained so he could be brought to safety.
The blaze was successfully extinguished and fire crews managed to prevent its spreading to neighbouring properties. McDonald was arrested.
Steven Swift, for McDonald, today told the Appeal Court that, in light of his undiagnosed post-traumatic stress disorder, which caused him flashbacks and sleepless nights at the time of the blaze, the two-year sentence was “manifestly excessive.”
Mrs Justice Cox, sitting with Lord Justice Leveson and Sir Geoffrey Grigson, said the punishment was lenient compared to the jail terms often handed out in other reckless arson cases.
But she added: “In the unusual and exceptional circumstances which exist in this case, we have decided that it is open to his court to take an exceptional course.
“This was undoubtedly a serious case and the judge was right to have regard to the risk to the appellant’s family, neighbours and the firefighters.
“But this was wholly out of character as a result of severe and then undiagnosed post traumatic stress disorder...for which this appellant had received no counselling or assistance of any kind whilst in the army or after leaving in 2009.”
After his sentence was cut to one year, Lord Justice Leveson said that, because of the time McDonald spent on remand before he was sentenced, he would be released in the next few days.
The judge said the couple have resumed their relationship since the fire and McDonald was being given help by forces’ charities Combat Stress and the Royal British Legion.