Praise for tragic PJ’s bravery in fighting arson blaze in house

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ONE of four Suffolk men killed in a building site accident has been praised by a judge for his bravery in tackling a deliberately started fire.

Peter Johnson, known to friends as PJ, used a hosepipe to douse the flames inside his neighbour’s smoke filled home at Stanton.

On Friday, Judge Peter Thompson told the arsonist at Ipswich Crown Court: “Your neighbour put the fire out himself with his own hosepipe which was a very brave act by Peter Johnson who is now sadly deceased.”

Mr Johnson died when a steel frame collapsed, crushing them as the four worked on a building site at Great Yarmouth in January.

Mark Hensby, 36, of Newlands Close, Stanton, pleaded guilty to arson following the fire on September 12.

Naomi Turner, prosecuting, said Hensby had had marital difficulties. He had depression and his wife had been having an affair but the couple tried to make their relationship work.

The evening before the blaze they had gone out and returned to Mrs Hensby’s father’s home. Hensby left to get his medication, said Mrs Turner. It was then Mrs Hensby found her mobile phone was smashed and was concerned because of the intimate text messages she had received on it.

At 6.40am the following day, Mr Johnson was woken by someone repeatedly ringing the bell at his home in Newlands Close, Stanton. He opened the door to see Hensby leaving the scene.

Mrs Turner said Mr Johnson had then seen smoke billowing out of Hensby’s house next door and, unsure if anyone was in there, went inside but was forced to leave because of the smoke.

In a statement, Mr Johnson had told police that the house was of timber construction and would have burned easily. He had used a hosepipe to tackle the flames.

When interviewed, Hensby accepted he had been in the house. He said he had lit some candles but when one set fire to clothing he panicked and did nothing to put it out. It caused £35,000 of damage.

In mitigation, Micaila Williams said Hensby had alerted Mr Johnson in the neighbouring house and had left the front door open to allow access. Hensby had been frightened by what was happening, said Miss Williams.

The ‘final straw’ leading to the fire had been Hensby’s discovery of text messages on his wife’s phone and he had admitted: “I did not act normally.”

Hensby is currently in the process of obtaining a divorce, the court heard.

Sentencing Hensby, Judge Thompson told him: “You were triggered by intense jealousy.”

Hensby was sentenced to 12 months imprisonment suspended for two years. He will remain under Probation Service supervision for two years and pay his wife £1,000 compensation.