Murder accused wanted ‘to act the heroine’

Rebecca Reasbeck
Rebecca Reasbeck

A WANNABE hero started a fire which ending up killing a pensioner just so she could be hailed a life-saver for raising the alarm, a court heard.

Bed-bound Irene Herring, 85, died at the Conquest the day after the blaze at the BUPA-run Ancaster Court nursing home in Bexhill last February – a fire which subsequent investigations proved started in the pensioner’s bedroom.

The elderly lady had previously suffered a series of strokes which had left her tragically unable to use an alarm buzzer or call for help and a post mortem showed she died as a result of breathing in fumes of thick smoke.

And this week the trial of Rebecca Reasbeck, pictured left, of Upper Park Road, St Leonards, began at Lewes Crown Court over the death. The 20-year-old denies murder and manslaughter.

However, the court was told that the fire was the result of a bizarre attention-seeking plot which went wrong – with Reasbeck accused of starting the fire on purpose, trying to light a reclining electrical chair and a commode seat.

Anthony Haycroft, prosecuting, told Lewes Crown Court: “The defendant deliberately set fire to Irene’s bedroom in two separate places.

“She pretended she could smell smoke downstairs from the place where the fire was lit and she raised the alarm.

“She did this so she could act the heroine, but unfortunately the flames got out of control, as well as the heat, and Irene died as a result.”

The court also heard that Reasbeck, then aged 18, was seen running from the direction of Mrs Herring’s room by nurses - giving the excuse that she was running upstairs after smelling burning from the laundry room.

However the jury was told she must have been lying because the door to Mrs Herring’s room was sealed, preventing smoke from escaping.

Mr Haycroft said: “If it’s a lie - and the Crown say it is a lie - that she could smell smoke two floors down, it shows that she had no reason to be on the top floor at the time Mrs George and her assistants saw her.

“The crown say this is evidence of her guilt.”

And care assistant Steven Walker said he saw Reasbeck rush back to Mrs Herring’s room in a panic after the alarm sounded.

Mr Haycroft said: “He saw her go to room 47 (Mrs Herring’s room). She was saying things like ‘Oh my God’. She was panicked.

“The defendant grabbed the door handle to room 47. Steve Walker told her not to open the door, in accordance with his training.

“Having put her hand on the door handle, she then put the palm of her hands against the door and opened it.

“She was met with black smoke.

“The defendant kept saying she had to get Irene out. Steve said they had to get help instead. Then he lost sight of her.”

Firefighters arrived quickly at the scene and put the fire out, but they were unable to save Mrs Herring.

On Wednesday, the jury visited Ancaster Court nursing home.

The trial continues.