Fireraiser feels the heat for three stair blazes across city

The stairwell at South Clerk Street where Rory McVay set fire to a mattress
The stairwell at South Clerk Street where Rory McVay set fire to a mattress
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A SERIAL fireraiser who set a blaze in a building which forced a pair of students to jump out of their window on to a mattress to escape was today facing jail.

Rory McVay admitted starting three fires in the Capital, including the blaze at the South Clerk Street tenement, which also saw 20 other people rescued with help from firefighters with breathing apparatus.

The 31-year-old also told police that he knew where one of their senior officers lived and threatened: “I’m going to burn down his house with his family inside.”

During the South Clerk Street incident, Chris Hutchins and Scott McGee leapt on to a mattress thrown from their first-floor flat after finding their stairwell filled with smoke and extremely hot.

Their flatmate, Michael Hanning, also climbed on to a window ledge but was rescued using a ladder.

McVay, of St Katherine’s Crescent, Gracemount, admitted three charges of wilful fireraising to the danger of residents and an offence of behaving in a threatening or abusive manner, when he appeared at the High Court in Edinburgh yesterday.

The judge, Lady Smith, told McVay, who has 25 previous convictions, primarily for housebreaking, that he had pleaded guilty to “very serious charges”.

He first struck at Hillside Street in Leith on December 1, 2008, when he set fire to bags of clothing and bikes in a common stair serving eight flats. Firefighters had to lead 81-year-old resident Charles Corr, his hands and face blackened by smoke, to safety during the incident.

McVay struck again on October 12, 2009, in Oxford Street, Newington, where he set a bag of rubbish alight before making a 999 call from a nearby phone box to report a fire. Firefighters attended and found rubbish in the stair that had been set alight but it had gone out.

McVay then started another blaze within a fortnight when he set fire to a mattress at South Clerk Street in Newington on October 25, 2009, where the majority of residents were students.

Advocate depute Laura Thomson told the court: “A total of 22 residents were evacuated by firefighters, including one who was evacuated by turntable ladder, another by ladder and 18 by being escorted down stairs by firefighters with breathing apparatus.

“None of the stair residents were physically injured, but many felt scared and some now feel unsafe in their homes and anxious.”

Residents smelt burning and found smoke coming into their flats. Ms Thomson added: “Not only was there the risk of the fires taking hold and causing further damage to property and risk to life, but smoke can present a danger too as any resident attempting to leave via the common stair would inhale the smoke.”

McVay was detained by police in February this year over other matters. He asked if he was going to be interviewed by Detective Sergeant John Kavanagh.

He said he would “have the last laugh” and claimed that he had followed the officer home before stating he was going to burn down his house with his family inside.

The court heard that, when McVay was arrested for making threats against the officer, who had never had dealings with him, he laughed in response.

The judge deferred sentence on McVay, who is in custody, for reports.