Trial begins for teenager Lee Sopp accused of deadly arson attack

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The trial began yesterday of a 19-year-old from Leighton Buzzard accused of starting a deadly house fire that nearly killed a family of three.

Lee Sopp appeared at Luton Crown Court accused of arson with intent, after the fire at Hydrus Drive almost killed his teenage former friend and his parents in the early hours of April 22.

The prosecution allege Mr Sopp started the fire deliberately after being beaten and robbed outside Tesco several days earlier.

He insisted the attack was set up by his former friend, who denied having anything to do with it.

A number of threatening Facebook exchanges were read out in court from the day before the fire.

In one, the ex-friend told Lee Sopp to stop threatening him, warning him “if you’re going to do that, you better not play with fire”.

The latter responded, “you’re already on fire”.

The prosecution described how the friend was awoken that night by the sound of the smoke alarm.

Gary Venturi, prosecuting, said: “He noticed there was smoke everywhere and very quickly the house was engulfed in flames.

“He and his parents were upstairs, unable to use the stairs to get out of the house as the smoke and heat continued to rise.

“They were able to open the window that allowed them to step on to the tiled roof of the porch and then neighbours helped them down to the garden.”

The family were taken to hospital suffering the effects of smoke inhalation after being rescued by brave neighbours Gary Bannister and Matt Sutherland, who helped them off the porch shortly before the windows exploded.

The house was left a charred ruin after the fire, with the upstairs rooms sustaining 100% fire damage and the stairs were completely obliterated.

Mr Venturi went on: “The friend was able to show officers a Facebook conversation that happened between himself and Mr Sopp.

“Fire officers were able to establish that the seat of the fire appeared to be inside the front door, suggesting petrol had been used as an accelerant having been simply delivered through the front door of the house.”

Police searched Mr Sopp’s address at Harmony Row and found a petrol can which was seized. They also spoke to his sister who was present in the home.

Mr Venturi added: “She said he is someone given to bragging about things he had done.

“She said at the relevant time, she was aware of him coming home and he was boastful and said to her, “you won’t believe what I’ve done” and thereafter going on to explain that he’d burnt down someone’s house.

“She was initially in shock but he explained that he put some socks and petrol through the letter box, using matches to ignite it all.”

Mr Venturi described how Lee Sopp was then arrested and admitted to the Facebook exchanges, but denied any involvement in the arson attack. He alleged he’d merely had a conversation about the fire with his sister.

The prosecution told the jury of nine men and three women that the case has no forensic or DNA evidence but relies on the circumstancial evidence. Lee Sopp denies the charge.

The case continues.