Arsonist who killed great-grandmother by arson says he got the wrong door

Mark O’Brien, who suffers from paranoid schizophrenia, claimed he set the fire at the Birmingham home because he was branded a paedophile

Peggy Wright died after jumping out of a window to escape an arson attack at her home
Peggy Wright died after jumping out of a window to escape an arson attack at her home

An arsonist who killed a cherished great-grandmother by setting her house on fire claimed to officials he “got the wrong door”.

Peggy Wright – who was also known as the “Peggy Mitchell of her street” in reference to the former EastEnders matriarch – had to jump out of an upstairs window as a result of the fire and was fatally injured in the fall.

Mark O’Brien, who suffers from paranoid schizophrenia, claimed he started the fire when he was yelled at and branded a paedophile, he reported Birmingham Live.

However, when he was arrested in Birmingham city center, he told officers: “Damn it, I think I got the wrong door.”







Flowers are left at the scene at Lapworth Grove in Balsall Heath
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Birmingham Mail / Darren Quinton)

Birmingham Crown Court has been told the Six Stone pensioner was picked up by her son Andrew France, 53, before jumping with her in his arms as the fire tore through her home in Balsall Heath on April 18 last year .

Ms Wright was fatally injured in the fall and died from her injuries that night.

The mother and son had never met O’Brien before, the court said in a hearing on Friday, April 8.

The arsonist was arrested a few hours later outside a Wagamama restaurant in the Birmingham city center bullring and told police his head was “turned over”.

It has been claimed that he was actually screaming to himself the night before the fire.

He was initially charged with murder, attempted murder and arson with intent to endanger life, but later pleaded guilty to manslaughter due to reduced criminal responsibility, negligent arson in danger of his life and serious bodily harm.







Police at the scene of the fatal arson attack
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The pleas were accepted after medical evidence from a number of professionals.

Experienced psychiatrist Dr. Nicholas Kennedy said at Friday’s hearing that O’Brien suffers from paranoid schizophrenia.

O’Brien stood up and addressed Ms Wright’s friends and family in the court’s public gallery, saying: “Sorry for what happened. I did not mean that.”

Edmund Vickers, prosecutor, said the accused lived in an apartment building in Lapworth Grove for about three weeks before the fire.

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He said O’Brien told a neighbor at 8.25am on April 18 that he was “damned” and claimed someone had “yelled and yelled at me all night and called me a pedophile and a nonce”.

Mr Vickers said the neighbor “heard no such yelling, save the yelling of Mr O’Brien”.

Addressing the fire, he said: “Andrew France lived at the address with his 83-year-old mother, Peggy Wright.







Forensic scientists at the crime scene in Balsall Heath
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“They had both gone to bed. Mr France woke up the next morning and immediately saw flames shooting up the stairs.

“He could smell gasoline. He woke his mother and found he couldn’t leave the house by the stairs.

“He opened her bedroom window. The flames swept into the bedroom and both were caught in the flames, leading them to the window.

“Ms. Wright only weighed six stone. He (Mr France) snuggled her in his arms and jumped with her to the ground below while holding her.

“Unfortunately, they landed heavily and he immediately realized that both had sustained serious injuries in the fall.”

Mr Vickers said Ms Wright was admitted to Queen Elizabeth Hospital at 10.50am but her injuries were “unsurvivable” and she died at 11pm.







Emergency vehicles outside the property
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Mr France also suffered serious injuries and would be mentally “scarred” by the ordeal, he said.

O’Brien was arrested around 2 p.m. while sitting on the steps in front of Wagamama.

Police body worn cameras picked him up and said: “He should have known something was going to happen. What he did to me was vulgar, he deserved to fuck everything.

“None of this would have happened if you had worked it out. He fried my brain.

“I spoke to the man on the phone and told him I burned his house down. He shouldn’t have pushed me.

“I told him to stop, he didn’t want to stop. Very easily. My head was spinning, I can’t even remember.”

Mr Vickers said that when O’Brien was re-arrested on suspicion of murder, he remarked: “F*** sake, think I got the wrong door.”

He told the court O’Brien’s mental health problems were “exacerbated by alcohol and drug addiction”.

Judge Paul Farrer QC said the accused “denies any intent to kill or cause serious harm and claims he believes the house is empty”.

dr Kennedy said O’Brien’s paranoid schizophrenia was “treatment-resistant,” meaning he was taking an antipsychotic drug called clozapine.







Police at the scene in Balsall Heath
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When asked if the defendant could be successfully treated in prison, he said: “It would make it possible, but it would be far less than ideal.”

dr Kennedy said that people who stop clozapine “could get sick very quickly” which could “go undetected” in prison.

Andrew Smith, defending himself, said O’Brien was suffering from an “overwhelming psychotic episode” at the time of the offence, adding: “His mental illness led directly to the commission of offences.”

Mr Smith also argued the defendant “did not disengage” from his medical treatment and that alcohol played only a “minimal role” in his actions.

As the hearing passed the two-hour mark, Judge Farrer confirmed that he would not deliver the verdict until Wednesday, April 13.

He told O’Brien: “I don’t lose sight of the fact that you want to know what the verdict is in this case, but I’ve heard very detailed submissions and I have to think about it because everyone, including you, has heard it from I want to do this right.

“I’m going to take the weekend to think about everything I’ve heard.”

O’Brien was taken to the Tamarind Center in Birmingham, a moderately secure facility.

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