Irene accused walks free as trial collapses

A CARE home worker accused of starting a fire that killed an elderly resident has walked free from court after a second trial collapsed.

Laundry worker Rebecca Reasbeck, 20, of Upper Park Road, St Leonards, was accused of starting the fire to ‘act the heroine’ when she raised the alarm at Ancaster Court in Bexhill, East Sussex, in February 2009.

It was claimed her attention-seeking stunt went wrong when the blaze burned out of control, leaving frail pensioner Irene Herring, 85, trapped.

She suffered pneumonia caused by smoke inhalation from which she never recovered.

However the jury of eight men and three women failed to reach a verdict after deliberating for more than 17 hours at Lewes Crown Court and were formally discharged on Monday.

Miss Reasbeck, who has a one-year-old boy, wept in the dock as she was told she would not face a third trial and was now free to get on with her life.

Judge Mr Justice John Saunders, who offered the jury a majority verdict on Friday morning, said it would not be in the public interest to bring the case back to court again.

A Sussex Police spokeswoman said: “After consulting with Sussex Police and the family of Mrs Herring, the Crown Prosecution Service said it would not be in the public interest to seek a retrial.”

Mrs Herring’s devastated husband David, 87, who visited her in the home daily and was at her hospital bedside when she died, said afterwards he hoped whoever had started the fire would regret it for the rest of their life.

Miss Reasbeck’s first trial, for murder, collapsed in March when a jury deliberated for eight hours without agreeing on a verdict.

The charge was reduced to manslaughter for the second trial, which heard three weeks of evidence.

Miss Reasbeck, who was just 17 at the time, always denied starting the fire and told the jury she found the allegation ‘sick’.

She was charged after fire investigators found the blaze was started deliberately in two places in Mrs Herring’s third-floor room.

In his summing up, the judge said police had not found any forensic evidence linking Miss Reasbeck with the fire, but the prosecution case was based on things she said and did after the blaze.