Arsonist who killed great-grandma by torching house says he got the wrong door

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

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

An arsonist who killed a cherished great-grandmother by setting fire to her home claimed to officers that 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 – was forced to jump from 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 had started the fire as he had been shouted at and branded a paedophile, reports Birmingham Live.

However, when arrested in Birmingham city centre, he told officers: “F*** sake think I got the wrong door.”

Flowers are left at the scene in Lapworth Grove in Balsall Heath


Birmingham Mail/Darren Quinton)

Birmingham Crown Court was told that the six-stone pensioner was picked up by her son Andrew France, 53, before jumping with her in his arms as the blaze ripped through their home in Balsall Heath on April 18 last year.

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

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

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

It was alleged he had in fact been shouting to himself the night before the fire.

He was initially charged with murder, attempted murder and Arson intending to endanger life but he later pleaded guilty to manslaughter due to diminished responsibility, Arson being reckless as to whether life was endangered and grievous bodily harm.

Police at the scene of the fatal Arson attack


Average BPM)

The pleas were accepted following medical evidence from a number of professionals.

Expert psychiatrist Dr Nicholas Kennedy told Friday’s hearing that O’Brien suffered from paranoid schizophrenia.

O’Brien stood and addressed Ms. Wright’s friends and family in the public gallery of the court, saying: “Sorry for what happened. I didn’t mean it.”

Edmund Vickers, prosecuting, said the defendant had lived in a house of multiple occupancy on Lapworth Grove for around three weeks before the fire.

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He said at 8.25am on April 18, O’Brien told a neighbor he was “f****** off” claiming someone had been “shouting and screaming at me all night, calling me a paedophile and a nonce”.

Mr Vickers said the neighbor “heard no such shouting apart from shouting coming from Mr O’Brien”.

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

Forensic officers at the scene in Balsall Heath


Birmingham Mail/Darren Quinton)

“They had both gone to bed. Mr France awoke the next morning and immediately saw flames coming up the stairs.

“He could smell petrol. He awoke his mother realizing he couldn’t exit the house going down the stairs.

“He opened her bedroom window. The flames were coming into the bedroom and both were caught by the flames which led them to the window.

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

“Unfortunately they landed heavily and he immediately realized both suffered serious injuries in the fall.”

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

Emergency services vehicles outside the property


Darren Quinton)

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

O’Brien was arrested sitting on the steps outside Wagamama at around 2pm.

Police body-worn cameras captured him saying: “He should have known something was going to happen. What he did to me was vulgar he deserved f****** everything.

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

“I talked to the man on the phone and told the geezer I burnt his house. He shouldn’t have pushed me.

“I told him to stop, he wouldn’t stop. Simple as. My head f****** flipped I don’t even remember doing it.”

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

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

Judge Paul Farrer QC said the defendant “denies an attempt to kill or cause serious harm and asserts he believed the house to be empty.”

Dr Kennedy said O’Brien’s paranoid schizophrenia was “treatment-resistant” meaning he was on anti-psychotic medication called Clozapine.

Police at the scene in Balsall Heath


Anita Maric / SWNS)

Asked whether the defendant could be successfully treated in prison, he said: “It would allow for it but it would be far less than ideal.”

Dr Kennedy said that people who came off Clozapine could become “unwell very quickly” which “could go undetected” in prison.

Andrew Smith, defending, said O’Brien suffered from an “overwhelming psychotic episode” at the time of the offense, adding: “His mental illness directly drove the commission of criminal offenses.”

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

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

He told O’Brien: “I don’t lose sight of the fact you want to know what the sentence is in this case but I have heard very detailed submissions and I need to think about them because everyone, including you, wants me to get this right.

“I’m going to take the weekend to reflect on everything I have heard.”

O’Brien was remanded to Birmingham’s Tamarind Centre, a medium secure facility.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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