AN ARSONIST who put dozens of lives at risk in order to get a new flat has been jailed.

Gary Philips torched his third floor flat on Norland Street in Widnes shortly before 10pm on July 5 last year.

The 36-year-old then visited a neighbour and told them that he had set fire to his flat as he needed somewhere new to live.

The neighbour immediately alerted Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service who swiftly arrived at the scene and found that fire was well alight, with smoke billowing from the property.

Duncan Palin from Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service said: "We were called to the scene just after 10pm and on arrival at the scene it quickly became apparent that this was a serious incident.

“The fire had already taken hold of Philip’s flat and smoke had started to spread to a number of neighbouring properties.

“At the height of the blaze more than 20 firefighters were in attendance at the scene, with seven fire engines and an aerial platform.

"Firefighters safely evacuated residents from their homes. Crews also used the aerial platform to rescue one man from his balcony, as he was unable to escape via the communal corridor.”

Philips was arrested shortly after the incident and pleaded guilty to arson with intent to endanger life at Liverpool Crown Court on December 13 last year.

Today Philips was sentenced to four and a half years in prison.

Following sentencing Detective Constable Tina Jackson from Cheshire Police said: “The actions taken by Philips were totally deplorable, and the sentence handed to him reflects the severity of his actions.

“He knew that others residents were at home at the time yet he continued to set fire to the building, putting their lives at risk and causing over £85,000 worth of damage.

“I would like to take this as an opportunity to thank the firefighters from Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service for the support they provided on the night of the fire and during this complex investigation.”

Duncan Palin, from Cheshire Fire and Rescue Service, added: "We welcome today's sentencing. Philip’s reckless actions put the lives of other residents and firefighters at considerable risk.

"Arson is a terrible crime that costs the tax payers thousands and more importantly it can cost people their lives."