Residents of a block of flats in Lowestoft were forced to flee from their homes after a mentally ill man started a blaze in his council flat while trying to burn paperwork, a court has heard.

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Paranoid schizophrenic Darren Atkins had stopped taking his medication shortly before the fire in May last year. He believed people were trying to get into his flat and were looking though his mail to find information to use against him, Ipswich Crown Court was told.

On May 9 fire-fighters were called to flats in Fir Lane, Lowestoft, and they put out a blaze in Atkins’ flat which caused £541 damage.

Atkins told a fire-fighter he had been trying to set fire to some papers and then explained to a police officer that he usually used a metal tray but on this occasion he had not and the fire had taken hold.

Katherine Davey, prosecuting, said Atkins had raised the alarm and told his neighbours about the fire and they had been able to leave their flats.

She said there was “quite substantial” damage to Atkins’ flat but no other flats had been affected.

Atkins, 26, of Fir Lane, Lowestoft, admitted arson and was given a 24 month community order with supervision and mental health treatment requirements.

Sentencing him, Judge John Devaux said offences of arson could go wrong and result in unforeseen and unwanted consequences.

He said at the time of the offence Atkins hadn’t taken his medication for two days.

Warwick Aleeson, for Atkins, said his client had a complicated mental health history and was a paranoid schizophrenic. His mental health had deteriorated and he had become “extremely paranoid” after failing to take his medication.

Mr Aleeson said: “He believed people were trying to get into his flat and he would barricade himself into his flat. He also believed people were outside his door talking about him and that they were looking through his mail to glean information to use against him.”

On the day of the fire he had tried to burn his mail without a metal tray he normally used and mistakenly thought he had stamped it out. When he realised what was happening he had called the fire service and contacted his neighbours.

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