Pensioner "put lives of 100 neighbours at risk" by opening gas pipe and lighting fires
AN "ECCENTRIC" pensioner could have blown up a block of flats after opening up a gas pipe and lighting two fires before walking out of her home and locking the door.
A court heard Julia Bremmer deliberately removed the cap of a redundant gas pipe and opened it up, before setting fires in her sixth-floor maisonette in the hope that once the leaking gas reached them it would cause an explosion.
The 69-year-old is accused of arson and recklessly endangering the lives of more than 100 neighbours at Brandon House on Jacobs Wells Road.
At the first day of her trial yesterday, prosecutor Rupert Lowe told Bristol Crown Court Bremmer's actions on October 6, 2009 were "extremely dangerous".
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He said: "There was no other reason for Miss Bremmer to make a pile of paper and light it, other than to set fire to the gas.
"The defendant had left with two suitcases, with no intention to return home. We suggest that she did not think it would be there to return to.
"Had it ignited, this gas would have caused an extremely large explosion which would have taken out three or four flats and caused a large gas fire."
The Crown asserts Bremmer, who has "long-standing mental health issues", left her flat before 7.30am.
Soon neighbours were waking up to the pungent smell of gas emanating from the sixth floor and spreading through the 90-flat council block.
A gas expert from Wales and West Utilities, the company which deals with gas connection issues for the council, firefighters and the police attended and the source of the smell was traced Bremmer's flat.
When no one answered repeated bangs on the door, the fire brigade kicked in the bottom panel, allowing the expert, Geoffrey Greatbacks, to crawl through.
The jury was told he immediately heard a "whooshing" sound, which was coming from an open gas pipe in Bremmer's kitchen.
Normally the pipe would have been capped and a tool would be needed to force it open.
Mr Greatbacks immediately opened all the windows to let the gas escape and the concentration in the air was so high by that time the firefighters had to use breathing apparatus when they entered.
In the flat, two burnt-out fires were found. One, in the bedroom, was a pile of ash containing an aerosol can and a tea-light candle. The other had damaged wallpaper and a door frame.
Bremmer was arrested in the Wild Goose cafe that evening, having gone to stay in a hostel in St Paul's.
The jury was told that as Bremmer was arrested, she told police: "I don't even know the injuries or the damage – I just managed to get out."
Bremmer had lived in the maisonette for more than 25 years, but by the time of the incident she was more than £10,000 in rent arrears.
In a prepared statement given in police interview, Bremmer said she had previously had gas trouble, which had been fixed and that her flat had been broken into by three men a couple of days earlier who assaulted her and "did something" in her kitchen, resulting in a sewage-like smell. She also said the fire damage to her wallpaper had happened 18 months previously.
Mr Lowe, who described the defendant as an "unusual eccentric", said to the jury: "Either this was an outright lie, or the result of paranoia and fantasy."
Bremmer denies arson while being reckless as to whether life is endangered, and the alternative charges of damaging property, being reckless as to whether life would be endangered, or criminal damage.
Giving evidence, next-door neighbour Steve Kavanagh said he first became aware of the gas leak at about 11am, when he was woken up by loud banging on his door and Mr Greatbacks was poking a gas reader through his letter box.
On answering the door with an unlit roll-up cigarette in his hand, he said the gas man told him: "Don't light that or you'll blow us up all over the road."
The case continues.