A FIRE started deliberately by a drunk arsonist in a communal hallway could have had “catastrophic consequences” if not for a fire alarm.

Thomas McGinn, 38, of Colne Road, was jailed for four years at Chelmsford Crown Court last week after he pleaded guilty to the charge of arson endangering life.

McGinn set a magazine alight and placed it at the bottom of a stairway in communal area of the building in Carnarvon Road, Clacton, on April 1.

The stairway was only exit route for the two families living in the flats above.

A still image of McGinn was circulated internally by Essex Police and one officer recognised him as a man he had stopped in the area shortly after the fire was started.

McGinn was arrested on April 19 and during interview he initially denied starting the fire despite being caught on CCTV entering the property.

A few minutes after he left, a fire could be seen glowing.

The blaze caused damage to carpet, walls, two push chairs and a child’s scooter at the property.

Det Sgt Dan Smith, from Clacton CID, said: “This could have had catastrophic consequences had the fire alarm not activated and the sleeping families evacuated, whilst colleagues in the fire service dealt with the fire.

“Due to the diligent investigation, Thomas McGinn was quickly identified and he will now serve four years as punishment for putting the lives of others at risk.

“The case against him was so strong, he had no choice but to plead guilty.

“This sentence should serve as a stark warning to others who would intend to use fire to cause harm to others.”

Judge David Turner QC called the case “disturbing and perplexing”, with McGinn’s motives for starting the fire remaining a mystery.

Deeming McGinn to be a dangerous offender, he imposed a four-year prison sentence, with an extended licence period of three years.

Kevin Toomey, mitigating, said his client had no memory of setting the fire when he was arrested, but acknowledged what he had done after viewing the CCTV footage.