Babysitter cleared of arson said case 'almost drove her to suicide'
A WOMAN who was cleared of starting two house fires has spoken of how the ordeal “almost drove her to suicide”.
Fleur Wyndham-Grey, 57, an interior designer, shouted out from the dock at Truro Crown Court on Friday and wept after the foreman of the jury returned the not guilty verdict.
After three and a half hours of deliberation she was cleared unanimously of two counts of arson with intent to endanger life.
One count related to a fire that started under a bed at the home of Katherine and Tom Varcoe at Fowey on May 13 last year.
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Ms Wyndham-Grey, the couple’s friend for eight years, was babysitting their two children and one of their friends – everyone got out safely.
A second count related to an earlier incident that year at the home of two of her friends, Professor David Jenkins and his wife, Christine King, at Polruan, on January 3.
Ms Wyndham-Grey of Fore Street, Polruan, had always denied the allegations.
She said the trial had been “sheer hell” and spoke of the “appalling” treatment both she and her friends have been subjected to since it began.
“I have had people shouting through the window, ‘why don’t you use that big beam and hang yourself’?
“Children would put their faces up to the window and scream at me, calling me a murderer.
“I had dog poo put through the letterbox, and a man pee through the letterbox. I was spat at in the street. I had notes put through the door saying, ‘why don’t you kill yourself’?
“People who would normally say ‘hello’ would just look away. If it had been 150 years ago I would have been lynched on the quay or dipped in the ocean. It nearly drove me to suicide.”
During the trial the jury heard Ms Wyndham-Grey had two previous convictions for arson.
She had admitted starting a fire at the home of her parents in Dorset in 2000 and was imprisoned. Two years later she confessed to starting a fire at a house in Penzance where she was living after her release.
From the witness box at her latest trial she told the jury the blaze at her parents’ house was caused accidentally by her elderly father’s electrical wiring and she had accepted the blame because she wanted to spare him and her mother the strain of a court case.
She said the fire at the house in Penzance started after the owner accidentally allowed a pillow in a bedroom to fall onto a lamp.
Ms Wyndham-Grey told the court she pleaded guilty to starting that particular fire because she knew she was going to be blamed anyway and had “given up”.
Prosecutors had argued she started all the fires because she felt “slighted and snubbed” by family and friends – a claim she denied.
She said she was fond of all four of the Varcoe’s children whom she had looked after on many occasions.
“It was the worst aspect of the whole thing; that my integrity towards children was questioned,” she said.
“When this first started everybody said ‘there is no way you would do anything to those children’ – because I had become so close to them.”
“If ever I felt I had depression coming on I would always cancel babysitting.”
She said the court appearances were her idea of “sheer hell”.
“I was going to turn up in court wearing a paper bag over my head with ‘scapegoat’ right across it in large print but I thought it might be misconstrued by the judge and that people would think I was not taking the proceedings seriously,” she added.
“At the end of the trial the foreman of the jury stood up and looked at me.”
She said she was hanging onto the glass as he shouted three times that they found her, unanimously, not guilty. They all smiled at me.
“I was looking at up to 20 years in prison. I would not have survived it. I have spent time in prison on remand and I simply would not have coped.
“I am universally hated. Everywhere I go people stare at me. I want to get out of Cornwall as fast as I possibly can.
“I will never trust anyone again.”