Child fire hero becomes arsonist and found guilty of killing pensioner it care home blaze


A serial arsonist who developed a fascination with fire after saving her family from a blaze as a child has been found guilty of murdering an OAP in a care home inferno.

Karen Pedley, 43, was hailed a hero and even won a trip on Concorde as a youngster after alerting her loved ones to a fire in their house.

She was pictured in her local paper over 20 years ago alongside her family she saved where she was praised for her actions.

But the event created a “warped sense of heroism” in her and she went on to have a fascination with fire and became a serial arsonist.

Care home worker, Karen Pedley, 43
Care home worker, Karen Pedley, 43

She has now been convicted of killing 96-year-old Gladys Rowe after setting fire to the curtains in her bedroom in her care home where Pedley worked.

She has also been found guilty of the attempted murder of her roommate Joan Olive Ray in November 2008.

The victim died from smoke inhalation after Pedley, of Carharrack, Cornwall, who was working as a care assistant, started the blaze deliberately and then walked away.

A jury also ruled she was responsible for 13 other counts of arson during a nine year burning campaign between 2001 and 2010.

Pedley’s own barrister Simon Laws argued that she intended to rescue Mrs Rowe and her roommate but was driven back by dense smoke.

He described it as a possible “warped sense of heroism”.

Rosewyn House Residential Home
Rosewyn House Residential Home

Newspaper clippings from 1983 show how Pedley discovered a blaze as a ten-year-old child that destroyed her family home in a chilling echo of the later tragedy.

Truro Crown Court was told at the time she was lauded as a hero and even won a ride on a Concorde for her actions in getting her parents and seven siblings out alive.

The prosecution argued the incident sparked a life-long obsession with fire – that ended with fatal consequences at the Rosewyn House home in Truro, Cornwall.

Pedley was also convicted of starting other fires including one at a microwave oven at Trefula House Nursing Home in St Day, three fires at bedrooms of elderly men at the Seafarers’ Centre in Falmouth, three more fires at Carharrack Social Club and one at the shop Carharrack Stores.

She also started a blaze in the cupboard under the stairs at her sister’s house at Ellis Close, Hayle, and in the utility room of her next-door neighbour’s home.

Prosecuting, Nigel Lickley QC, told the jury: “Each allegation relates to the deliberate lighting of fires and it was in November 2008 when you worked as a care assistant that you went into the bedroom of two elderly residents at Rosewyn House and set fire to the curtains before leaving the room.

“Gladys Rowe died as a consequence of smoke inhalation.

“Ms Pedley set out before the fatal fire to make an impression of an electrical fault which she had actually caused herself. The damaging of the electrical cables shows a plan forming in her mind and how she believed she could get away with the crime.

“The fires relate to employment, grievances and disputes and were in some cases a reaction to criticism.”

Gladys Rowe who died in a fire
Gladys Rowe who died in a fire

Both Mrs Rowe and her roommate Joan Olive Ray used walking devices and had problems with mobility.

Mr Lickley also told the court how Pedley was often the first person to report the fires and was present when the fire service arrived, speculating as to how they started.

He also alleged that she threatened a co-worker to tell a false story to police or else she would “burn her house down”.

Mr Lickley added: “You may think it’s a miracle that more people were not injured – perhaps even killed – in these situations.

“She’s been laughing and dancing with these two women earlier.

“She went to the window, took out her lighter and she stood there and she choose which item to burn.

“Imagine yourself having to light the curtains in your own home. You may have to stand there for some seconds before the curtain lights.”

He said she then left the room and went downstairs to get ready for bed. The fire alarms did not sound until around 30 minutes later and the two women were unable to get out of their beds as the room filled with smoke.

A press cutting from the Dunstable Gazette from September 01 1983 of Karen Pedley (nee Stringer) then aged 10 with her Stringer family who were left without a place to live after their house burnt down
A press cutting from the Dunstable Gazette from September 01 1983 of Karen Pedley (nee Stringer) then aged 10 with her Stringer family who were left without a place to live after their house burnt down

Before the verdict was delivered Pedley’s defence barrister Simon Laws, QC, made a plea to the jury for them to consider a verdict of manslaughter.

He said: “This is not a case about someone trying to kill people.

“Bad enough as it is, it’s not that. It is not for me to say if Karen Pedley caused these fires. That is a matter for you to decide.”

Apart from the fatal fire at Rosewyn House, he said there was nothing the defence could say about Pedley’s alleged involvement in the other cases.

He added: “I am not going to try and persuade you of anything in relation to these counts.

“Your common sense tells you that one person can’t be so unlucky as to be on the scene of all these fires.”

Turning to the fire at Rosewyn House, he said: “I am going to assume that you conclude she did start the fire at Rosewyn. The evidence was that the curtain was set on fire in that room.

“You are likely to accept the prosecution case that Karen Pedley set that alight.

“What I am saying to you is that this is a case of manslaughter and not murder.”

But the jury rejected the appeal and Pedley will be sentenced later.


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