AN arsonist with a drink problem set fire to a shared building while others were asleep inside.

The blaze destroyed Keith Perkins' own flat and that of a couple upstairs.

It caused £35,000 worth of damage to the house in Etnam Street, Leominster, which had been divided into separate flats.

The flames became so hot they not only gutted his own flat, but melted a bath in the one above.

The 53-year-old, who said he was innocent of the attack, was jailed for five years at Worcester Crown Court on Wednesday (May 19).

He was convicted by a jury of arson being reckless as to whether life was endangered after the fire on November 28, 2017.

Before sentence, Perkins was listed as being of no fixed address, but he had been living in a tent.

Judge Nicholas Cole told Perkins he had shown no remorse, and was identified by probation as being at a high risk of re-offending after the fire, which left the victims suffering from nightmares.

When he was told to go downstairs with dock officers to begin his term of imprisonment, Perkins, who had come with a bag prepared for prison, told the judge: "When I come out of jail I won't change anyway."

Philip Beardwell, prosecuting, said the fire was started deliberately in the defendant's own flat on the sofa using a naked flame.

Expert evidence at the trial revealed that it would have taken "quite some effort", in the judge's words, to ignite the furniture, and that Perkins had also dismantled a smoke alarm in his own flat.

One of the victims, Barbara Morris, described how the fire had had "a huge emotional effect" and that it had destroyed all their belongings, including clothes, food and medication.

They had not been insured and she had to be relocated.

The estimate of the damage to their property was placed at £2,000, but the damage to the house itself, which was insured, was placed at £35,000.

The defendant had 40 convictions for 53 offences, including for simple arson in June 2010 and threats to destroy property.

His behaviour in the past has also resulted him in him being made subject to a criminal behaviour order in a bid to curb his offending. It was imposed on October 20, 2016, but it had expired, so he was not in breach of it when he burned the flat.

He has convictions for assault occasioning actual bodily harm and criminal damage. The most recent conviction on his record before this was for battery, which resulted in a fine on February 20 this year.

A restraining order and alcohol treatment requirement also formed part of that sentence.

Niall Skinner, defending, said: "Mr Perkins still maintains that he didn't do it. He's said that throughout, and he's said that to probation."

He had also said the same thing to the psychiatrist who assessed him.

"It's a stance he still maintains today," said Mr Skinner, who told the court that the defendant's record reflected "decades of alcohol misuse.

"The doctors say he is completely alcohol dependent. He's had years of homelessness."

The probation service has identified him as being of high risk of re-offending.

Judge Nicholas Cole told Perkins: "For some reason known, I suspect, only to yourself, you chose to set a fire.

"You did that knowing you were in a multi-occupancy building. There were a number of other flats."

Perkins had known Mr and Mrs Morris for years and got on reasonably well with them. The judge told him the other occupiers were asleep and "you would have known that".

Judge Cole said: "Your flat was almost completely destroyed and in the flat above it burned through into the bathroom, melting the bath and causing considerable damage. Mr and Mrs Morris were left homeless. All their belongings were destroyed.

"Mrs Morris described having nightmares. She was concerned she could have been killed."

He described the pre-sentence report prepared by probation as depressing reading.

"You were not at all remorseful," the judge told him.

The judge did not impose an extended sentence, but took into account a number of aggravating factors, including the defendant's drinking and the fact that the flat was occupied.

Perkins was jailed for five years, half of which he can expect to serve in custody and half on licence in the community.

A statutory £170 surcharge was also imposed.